A’s Add Scott Kazmir, Keep Doing A’s Things

This is an overly simplistic generalization, but when signing free agents to contracts smaller than $100 million, you can choose performance or health, but probably not both. Players who play everyday at a high level command massive paychecks, and are pursued by nearly every team with money to spend. When you’re shopping in the lower rent districts, you can sign healthy players with mediocre performances, or broken players with good performances, but there aren’t many good healthy free agents signing short term contracts these days.

The A’s, over the last few years, have very clearly prioritized performance over durability. When they wanted a center fielder back in 2010, they signed Coco Crisp despite the fact that he was coming off shoulder surgery. When they traded away Andrew Bailey in 2011, they targeted Josh Reddick from the Red Sox, who had been an interesting player when he was able to stay on the field. When they needed a shortstop last winter, they turned to the Astros and acquired Jed Lowrie, who had a history of both hitting well and breaking down regularly.

They’ve done it with pitchers too, acquiring guys like Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, and Jarrod Parker at various points over the last few years. Because of their budget constraints, the A’s have to shop from the bargain bin, and they have consistently chosen to buy talented broken players over more reliable mediocrities. When faced with a choice between talent and health, the A’s have chosen talent and hoped that the health would get better.

Today, they’ve done that again, signing Scott Kazmir to a two year contract for a little more than $22 million. And based on both the A’s history and Kazmir’s 2013 season, this looks like a strong bet to be one of the best contracts given to a free agent starter this winter.

You’re already familiar with Kazmir’s story. Good young pitcher flames out at age-25, is out of affiliated baseball by age-27, and then works his way back to the big leagues after a stint in the independent leagues and the return of his velocity following rehab. After signing a minor league contract last winter, Kazmir gave the Indians 160 good innings, posting the best walk rate of his career and his best strikeout rate since 2008. Depending on how much emphasis you want to put on ERA or FIP, he was either a roughly average or well above average starting pitcher in 2013, and managed to make 29 starts, handling a nearly full season load for a contender in a pennant race.

And he actually got better as the season wore on. In the first half of the season, he allowed a .344 wOBA and posted a 3.84 xFIP, but in the second half of the year, he allowed just a .298 wOBA and posted a fantastic 2.79 xFIP. That second half xFIP was fifth best in baseball, behind only guys like Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Burnett, and Stephen Strasburg. Rather than breaking down again under his first significant workload in three years, Kazmir got stronger the more he pitched.

However, a .324 BABIP allowed and continuing problems against right-handed batters drove his ERA over 4.00, so Kazmir hit the market viewed more as a pitcher with a long history of health problems than a guy who just demonstrated significant stretches of dominant pitcher. When the crowd forecast Kazmir’s contract, they guessed $17 million over two years, putting in the same range as Bronson Arroyo and Phil Hughes. This, despite the fact that Kazmir posted the 18th best xFIP- of any starter who threw at least 150 innings last year.

There are plenty of reasons to think that Kazmir’s 2014 could be even better than his 2013. His career numbers suggest there’s no reason to expect him to continue running a highly inflated BABIP in the future. Moving to Oakland should help offset some of the home run problems that have been an issue for him in the past. And Kazmir’s velocity actually got better as the year went on, so the most recent version of Kazmir that anyone saw was about as good as he’s ever been.

There are obvious health risks here. The velocity has gone away once, and maybe it will again. Kazmir might have figured out how to fix himself, but that doesn’t mean he won’t break again. He hasn’t thrown 200 innings in a season since before the year the original iPhone was released. The A’s are signing Kazmir on the hope that they’ll get 150 to 180 good innings, and they have to expect that they’ll need someone to fill in for him at some point during the season.

But the performance is pretty clearly worth the health risks. Steamer thinks Kazmir is going to be better, on a per innings basis, than every other free agent pitcher on the market besides A.J. Burnett. It’s forecasting him to pitch at a level that’s worth around +3.5 WAR per 180 innings, so even if he only gives them 120, this still will end up being a pretty decent deal. And if he stays healthy, they might have just signed the free agent with the most upside of any hurler on the market.

Betting on talent over health doesn’t always work, and when it doesn’t, you pay a lot of money to watch a guy rehab. But given the choice, Billy Beane and his staff clearly prefer to pay for broken players who are good when they aren’t broken, and it’s worked out pretty well for them over the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kazmir simply turned out to be the latest example of the A’s getting a good player at a reduced price simply because they’re willing to overlook medical problems in search of quality performance.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Joel
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Joel
2 years 5 months ago

Surprised that Kazmir went so cheaply, especially after Hughes got paid. I wonder if there’s something showing up in the scouting? Fear of injury? I don’t know, for $22 million over two years, a lot of teams should have been interested.

ettin
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ettin
2 years 5 months ago

Makes you wonder a little about the overall health of Brett Anderson if the A’s felt compelled to go out and do this.

That Guy
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That Guy
2 years 5 months ago

Uh, what’s to wonder?

Ruki Motomiya
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Ruki Motomiya
2 years 5 months ago

Are they trying to decide between “really bad” and “spectacularly awful”?

Clark Kent
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Clark Kent
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t think you can necessarily credit the A’s with a Moneyball-calibre market inefficiency here. The Blue Jays have also picked up a handful of injury-prone players, a practice which has largely burned them.

Danmay
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Danmay
2 years 5 months ago

And it burned the Athletics too from 2007-2011 for the most part. I don’t think this is about ignoring health problems so much as it is embracing high variance players.

Rick
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Rick
2 years 5 months ago

What’s allowed the A’s to not get burned recently has been the depth they’ve added injury potential talented players.
Potential starters for the upcoming season on the roster are: Brett Anderson, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Dan Straily, to go along with Scott Kazmir.
The A’s almost need injuries in order to deal with their depth.

BJsworld
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BJsworld
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t see Kazmir as a safe bet to be worth 4 WAR over 2 years. Sure he could be but I’d put the odds under 50/50. The guy has exactly one half of a season since 2009 where he has been worth that.

Not a bad signing. Probably worth the risk given what the A’s have available to spend. Could turn out to be a brilliant signing as Dave noted. Just as likely to be a drag on the organization.

wally
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wally
2 years 5 months ago

Even for the A’s, $11M/year isn’t that much of a drag. Who else were they really going to get that they can actually use? Basically, what’s the opportunity cost here? I don’t see too much.

BJsworld
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BJsworld
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t know what other options there are. Maybe not much via FA but certainly the chance to trade and take on salary is always there.

Zen Madman
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2 years 5 months ago

They could’ve asked the Tigers to give them Doug Fister for a nice holiday fruit basket. I guess it pays for the Nats to be on Eastern Time.

Danny Knobgobbler
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Danny Knobgobbler
2 years 5 months ago

What do we know about the A’s medical/training staff and analytics as they relate to injury prevention and prediction? Perhaps their confidence in these areas of the organization bolster their confidence in signing this type of player.

LONNIE
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LONNIE
2 years 5 months ago

I am in the minority on this one. I don’t like it. 11 mil a year is alot for a pitcher with his recent history.

Kris
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Kris
2 years 5 months ago

Or a huge bargain.

Matty Brown
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Member
Matty Brown
2 years 5 months ago

Brad Pitt does it again.

Dayton Moore
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Dayton Moore
2 years 5 months ago

This joke isn’t clever enough to be funny. Sorry.

Kenz
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Kenz
2 years 5 months ago

Over a two-year deal, I’d bet Kazmir’s performance will greatly outperform that of your namesake

Rippers
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Rippers
2 years 5 months ago

M’s add Bloomquist , keep doing M’s things.

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 5 months ago

What exactly does this have to do with Kazmir or the A’s?

Bryz
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2 years 5 months ago

Compare the comment to the title of the post.

nickolai
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nickolai
2 years 5 months ago

I like this signing as an A’s fan, but I still can’t forget this beautifully disastrous start. Thinking about it makes me tingle.

http://www.fangraphs.com/wins.aspx?date=2010-07-10&team=Angels&dh=0

Josh Hamilton
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Josh Hamilton
2 years 5 months ago

They got good opiates in Oakland?

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

Kazmir v Arroyo is performance v health, right there.

Dayton Moore's Super Special Assistant
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Dayton Moore's Super Special Assistant
2 years 5 months ago

Kazmir? Kazmir who? Vargas is the heat!

channelclemente
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channelclemente
2 years 5 months ago

Can I get ‘stump the Fangraphs Analyst” for $40? If you can’t come up with a cogent explanation for Beane’s choices, why don’t you swallow your pride, and as him.

Shane
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Shane
2 years 5 months ago

I’m not a Fangraphs Analyst, but your comment stumped me

grant
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grant
2 years 5 months ago

I think the likelihood that he gets 150 – 180 good innings is overstated. Prior to this year there were two years of not pitching, preceded by one of pitching terribly. This was one good year, but that’s a lot of bad history for a team to put 15% of its payroll on.

Colin
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Colin
2 years 5 months ago

In a vacuum this might be good reason to make him riskier. However, the reasons for his struggles before were pretty clear, he couldn’t throw very hard anymore. In fact, his velocity cratered. Last year, his velocity was basically completely back. It probably isn’t as risky as you think.

Sixto Lezcano
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Sixto Lezcano
2 years 5 months ago

Actually, he WAS pitching before last year, it was just in the Independent League. But he was still going out there throwing innings.

Also, the A’s have so many young (near minimum) players that they can afford to do this and add Jim Johnson at $9 to $10 Million per.

Charlie
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Charlie
2 years 5 months ago

Damn you, Cubs. Damn you.

Stratogists.com
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2 years 5 months ago

No mention of Ubaldo here, he’s similar to Kaz: struggles over past few years, new Indians pitching coach rights them both, mostly in second half. I am very worried about Kaz repeating, and same with Ubaldo should he sign away from Cleveland.

Eric
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Eric
2 years 5 months ago

Dude, Curt Young is one of the best pitching coaches in baseball. Kaz will be just fine if he stays healthy and keeps the velocity up.

Captain Obvious
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Captain Obvious
2 years 5 months ago

His health and velocity staying up are the two things which make him risky to begin with.

Sixto Lezcano
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Sixto Lezcano
2 years 5 months ago

I do agree that this is a typical Beane signing. Adding a lefty starter, a strikeout pitcher and a guy who finished strong is a high ROI move for the A’s. I really think the change in ballpark and working with Curt Young is going to make Kazmir even better with the A’s. I see 16-8 over 185 innings with a 3.25 ERA and 190 K’s. Well worth the cost…and a much better deal than Phil Hughes!

Adam
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Adam
2 years 5 months ago

Tribe fan here–My thoughts are that the A’s made a very solid signing with Kazmir. He’s a fierce competitor and is incredibly motivated. As his stuff improved from April-September, his confidence continued to come back as well. There were several outings where he was simply unhittable. I hope he is able to stay healthy because if he does he’ll be an incredible value at 11 million per year.

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