A Tale of Two Cities and Their Broken Pitchers

14 batters faced, 5 hits (1 HR), 2 walks, 2 hit batters, and, just for fun, 1 balk.

17 batters faced, 6 hits (2 HR), 5 walks, but hey, a strikeout!

One of these lines was posted by Scott Kazmir this weekend, the other by Javier Vazquez. I would ask if you could tell which was which, but in reality, it doesn’t matter – they were equally abysmal, and while you should never get too worked up over the results of one start, fans in Anaheim and Miami have all kinds of reasons to be worried about the process that led to those results.

Let’s start with Vazquez since there was a bit more optimism surrounding him this year. He retreated to the National League after a disastrous year in New York, and the Marlins gave him $7 million on the hopes that he would pitch much more like the 2009 version than the one that pitched for the Yankees last year.

 But in his first start of the year, Vazquez showed the same lack of velocity that led to his downfall last year. After averaging 91.1 MPH on his fastball in 2009, Vasquez averaged fell to just 88.7 MPH last year, and after one start this year, he was at just 89.4. Velocity is lower for most pitchers at the beginning of the season, but Vazquez needs those missing MPH more than most pitchers, and it’s unlikely that the Marlins will run him out there every five days on the hope that his velocity eventually creeps back up in a few months.

As a high-80s pitcher, Vazquez is basically throwing meatballs. It’s easy to point to the five walks and say that command was his issue rather than stuff, but when you’re throwing 88 MPH four-seamers, you don’t really have the luxury of pounding the strike zone. Without the stuff that he had two years ago, Vazquez has to live on the corners if he doesn’t want to get pounded. Of the 59 pitches he threw, only two generated swinging strikes, so even being around the zone more often wouldn’t have helped all that much.

Yes, the walks are problematic, but the underlying problem is that Vazquez simply doesn’t have the kind of repertoire that will allow him to get ahead in the count right now. If he throws a first pitch strike, there’s a good chance it’s going to get whacked, so he nibbles, falls behind in the count, and then he has to throw a pitch that gets whacked later in the count. It’s the epitome of a lose-lose situation.

If Vazquez wants a look at his future if his velocity never does return, he simply needs to look west, where Scott Kazmir was making sure that everyone noticed the giant fork sticking out of his back. Kazmir’s early career success came off a fastball that sat in the low-90s, but more importantly, a biting slider that averaged 84 and was nearly impossible to hit.

Yesterday, Kazmir’s fastball averaged 86 MPH and only used his once-great slider twice, just 3.2 percent of the 63 pitches he threw. It’s tough to use the slider when you’re perpetually behind in the count, but like Vazquez, Kazmir simply lacks the kind of oomph on his fastball to allow him to get ahead in the count. He tries to spot his fastball to either side of the plate, but he’s never been a good command guy, and that hasn’t improved even as his stuff has eroded.

Like Vazquez, he got a hitter to swing and miss just twice, so even setting aside the walks and hit batters, he wasn’t fooling anyone when he was around the zone. Kazmir was bad enough last year when his fastball averaged 90.5 MPH – he certainly couldn’t afford to lose another 4 MPH off that pitch, and yesterday, the Royals beat him mercilessly. At this point, running Kazmir out there every five days isn’t helping anyone, and Tony Reagins has to seriously consider an alternative fifth starter. Kazmir was among the worst pitchers in baseball last year, and that version was far superior to the one who took the hill for the Angels yesterday.

For some pitchers, velocity comes and goes, and in most cases (Phil Hughes, for instance), you shouldn’t get too worked up over a starting pitcher who is sitting a tick or two lower in April than they were last year. For Vazquez, though, he needs that velocity to come back sooner than later, and Kazmir probably shouldn’t throw any more meaningful innings for a team trying to win games. He’s simply broken, and hoping he figures out how to get batters out with Barry Zito‘s fastball is probably just wish-casting at this point. The Marlins can afford to have a longer leash with Vazquez, but if that fastball doesn’t come back soon, the pain that Kazmir is going through now will be the end result.

This wasn’t just two bad starts to begin the season – this was two guys who are getting a painful reminder that they aren’t now what they once were. One will likely never be again, while the other needs to get the ship righted quickly before find himself on the road to early retirement.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

33 Responses to “A Tale of Two Cities and Their Broken Pitchers”

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  1. filihok says:

    A dude with as cool a name as Kazmir deserves a better fate. That was an ugly game, and things don’t look good for him

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  2. Chops says:

    The Rays couldn’t have picked a better time to trade him. I’m sure the Angels are missing Sean Rodriguez right about now.

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    • bgrosnick says:

      It’s a little amazing how lopsided BOTH Scott Kazmir trades were – in hindsight.

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      • Ben says:

        Seriously, the end results of those two trades were the Mets get a couple awful years from the bad Zambrano, the Angels get a couple dozen retched starts from Kaz, and the Rays sit pretty with 4 years of an excellent starter (book-ended by some slight badness)and a cheap, promising bat in S-Rod for the foreseeable future.

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      • Steve says:

        Pretty sure the Mets’ trade was lopsided even without hindsight.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        AND Alex Torres – worth of a #9 spot in the Rays’ Top 30 Prospect list. That’s winning.

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      • uhhhjboy says:

        To be fair, Kaz pitched some pretty good games in the end of 2009 when the Angels got him, but imploded in the playoffs and has been awful ever since.

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    • Frank in LA of A says:

      +1 AND missing several millions of wasted dollars.

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  3. Sean says:

    The Rays could have done better on the Kazmir trade. Kazmir was already showing a precipitous decline in skills while he was still on the Rays. A year or two early and they probably could have gotten a king’s ransom for him. They sold low on that one…

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    • Steve says:

      I think it’s a little nit-picky to say this when the Rays actually used Kazmir to go to the World Series in 2008.

      Maybe the return would have been higher, but they were actually in “win-now” mode in 2008.

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      • Sean says:

        Good point. My only response would be that they did it with Garza (dump him off of a playoff season while in “win now” mode) so why not do the same with Kazmir? I just think the Rays front office missed the boat on Kazmir. I still give them props for selling when they did. They could have gotten out earlier though…

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    • Frank in LA of A says:

      The brilliance of the timing is that TB didn’t just salary dump, but they also received some prospects at the same time. Double bonus. Tony Reagins’ genius was only beginning to blossom at that time.

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  4. bowie says:

    this is the first article I’ve read containing the word “wish-casting” that was not at bp.com or in a sheehan newsletter

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  5. Sean says:

    The real praise should go to the Braves front office for dumping Vazquez off of a career year. Now that’s a sell high if I ever saw one.

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  6. TheJoeFrom1993 says:

    Kazmir’s collapse has been remarkably rapid.

    In his debut with the Angels in September 2009, he struck out 8 and walked one over 6 1/3 innings of work. Check out the video where his fastball hits the 93-95 mph range during that start.

    As per FanGraphs data, Kazmir’s fastball averaged 92.5 mph during his six regular season starts for the Angels in 2009.

    Today his fastball is a total joke and he no longer should be pitching at the MLB level.

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  7. brian says:

    At this point isn’t Kazmir no better than Oliver Perez?

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  8. Wcstflyer says:

    “Speed is life.” That used to be an axiom for SR-71 pilots and is just as true for MLB pitchers that are- or were in Kazmir’s case- touted as having strikeout power velocity. Clearly the wheels have completely fallen off Kazmir and the Angels had better find out quickly whether the cause is psychological or physiological.

    I don’t hold much credibility in the radar gun out in Anaheim. The same one that clocked Scott Kazmir at 95mph showed the Rays’ David Price throwing over 100 mph during an all-star game. David himself will tell you it reads 2-3 mph high. But even removing calibration error, a drop from 92-93 to 85-86 has alarm bells written all over it.

    Get Scott Kazmir into a doctor’s office- ASAP!

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  9. Ratwar says:

    Hard for me to really compare the two players to tell you the truth. The cause of their demise may be similar (a lack of fastball velocity), but the reasons for it are probably quite different. Kazmir has made 30 starts in just two major league seasons (and only pitched 200+ innings once). His career has been derailed by injuries. Vazquez on the other hand was a work horse starter that had 30+ starts for 11 seasons and is probably hitting the wall at age 34.

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  10. Dave Duncan says:

    Hi Scott, I’m going to remake you as a legitimate MLB starter for the low, low cost of…

    i dunno, surely like a 6-pack of PBR is worth more than Kazmir at this point

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  11. Jonathan says:

    I wish someone would write an article and get Kazmir’s thoughts on the issue of him pitching in the 2008 All Star game. He started the last game of the 1st half and was supposed to be ineligible to pitch but the game went to extra innings and he was forced to pitch. Ever since then his velocity and slider have been tanking. I’m wondering if that was the beginning of the end for him. Nobody ever brings this up though.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      There are a lot of reasons that his velocity could be decreased.

      Another thing about Kazmir … in his pitch FX page, starting 2 years ago, it basicalls lists his FB as a 2-seamer (if I am reading it right) at ~86 mph.

      His change and slider are being thrown at the same speeds as they were 4 years ago.

      The big difference is his FB velocity. Could it simply be because he’s throwing more 2-seamers than 4-seamers. Maybe instead of trying to throw a straightball by everyone, he’s trying to use more 2-seamers?

      Now, he could be trying to use more 2-seamers because his 4-seam velocity is reduced from what it used to be. That’s also possible.

      If FA = Fastball ALL, and FT = Fastball Two-Seamer, then he’s throwing 40% 2-seamers so far this year (63 total pitches), which is going to skew the average FB velocity quite a bit.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Dave Duncan, to this point, only tranforms RHP’s. LH can’t point the zone with 2-seamers and sinkers that run into a RHBs hands.

    Ya can’t help but to feel bad for Kazmir, it’s not like he’s trying to be ineffective or lose velocity.

    At this point he’s like a boxer that’s lost the ability to counterpunch or take a shot … All that’s left is to take the abuse until it’s time to quit.

    Sad, really.

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  13. R M says:

    I love your stuff, but several terms need to be done away with once and for all: Note: This is obviously just my opinion, but they annoy me.
    -all fork-related analogies referring to players who are “done” (they are about as overused as Mark Prior circa 2003)
    -“nibbling” when referring to a pitcher trying to paint the corners
    not featured in this article:
    -“lite” when pointlessly comparing an inferior player to a superior player with similar skills
    -loogy/roogy: an incredibly obnoxious, hyperbolic term, with abbreviations manipulated for sub-par comedic effect. In reality, no pitcher actually comes in for just one out most of the time. Sure, there are guys who do it a good bit, but what happened to the days of “lefty specialist”?
    -“worm burner” when referring to a ground ball–it was funny the first, second, and even maybe the third time. But at this point it seems to have replaced the term “ground ball” in a lot of writers’ vocabularies.
    -the asterisk: Yeah Cistulli, I’m looking at you. And all the people who have taken it upon themselves to mimic your wit in extremely misguided ways, namely by using asterisks.

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  14. Anthony says:

    I think Atlanta and Tampa’s front offices have meetings where they drink 300 dollar scotch, smoke cuban cigars, and brag about being awesome.

    Atlanta sells Vasquez, in a round about way, to Florida for Uggla and for a top pitching prospect. Tampa commits a vile act on the Mets, then after exhausting Kaz, sell him off to the land of misfit has beens.

    Love those front offices. If the Yankees or Red Sox were half as good as the Braves or Rays, nobody else would ever win a World Series.

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  15. Anthony says:

    I mean it’s not like Atlanta traded for Dan Uggla lite, they got the real deal. Also got Vizcaino who could end up producing a lot of worm burners, he’s not LOOGY. As for Kazmir, the Rays say a fork in the road and in kazmir and took the road they should* have taken. Kazmir is gonna have more luck nibbling on forks than on the corners of the plate.

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  16. cs3 says:

    So how long before Jair Jurrjens becomes an Angel?

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