Kazmir’s Pitch Mix

While Tampa’s breakthrough year has seen the rise of new stars and production from veteran role players, no player is more associated with the franchise than Scott Kazmir. He’s the all-star lefty who leads a rotation that is carrying the Rays to the playoffs, the franchise talent with a golden arm.

While Kazmir is having a successful season (3.58 FIP, 1.34 WPA/LI) that’s pretty much in line with previous results, 2008 Kazmir is quite a bit different than the one’s from previous seasons. Up until this year, he was basically league average at inducing groundballs, running a 43.1% GB% last year. This year, he’s at 30%, one of the lowest figures in the league. That doesn’t happen on accident – he’s pitching differently.

Thanks to the pitch type statistics here on FanGraphs, we can see that Kazmir has changed his arsenal quite a bit this year. Check out his pitch mix percentages:

Fastball %: 2006 – 56.2%, 2007 – 69.6%, 2008 – 76.6%
Slider %: 2006 – 28.6%, 2007 – 18.8%, 2008 – 9.0%

Two years ago, Kazmir was chucking sliders more than a quarter of the time, but now, not even one in ten pitches he throws is his potent breaking ball. Those missing sliders have all become fastballs, presumably as Kazmir tries to keep the stress off his elbow and stay healthy. Since his fastball is a four seam fastball that he locates up in the zone when going for strikeouts, the increased fastballs have led to an increase in fly balls – Kazmir is currently one of the most extreme flyball starters in the A.L.

This looks like a legitimate change in approach, and as long as he keeps relying heavily on his fastball, we shouldn’t expect his groundball percentage to revert to previous levels. Unless he learns how to throw the slider and stay healthy at the same time, this flyballing Kazmir is probably here to stay.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

7 Responses to “Kazmir’s Pitch Mix”

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  1. Eric Seidman says:

    He’s said that he lost the grip on his slider which, if true, is a huge factor. He’ll likely need that back.

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  2. Finn says:

    Based on Fangraphs data, for those starters who qualified in both 2007 and 2008:

    – Biggest increase in FB%: Livan Hernandez, +12.40% (if he’s gonna get paid to pitch to contact and be crappy, why waste time with those curveballs and changeups?)
    – Biggest decrease in FB%: Jeff Suppan, -9.40% (if you had Jeff Suppan’s fastball, you’d throw a lot more sliders too.)

    – Biggest increase in SL%: Derek Lowe, +12.60% (wily vet, keeping it fresh?)
    – Biggest decrease in SL%: John Maine, -11.50% (who knows)

    – Biggest increase in CB%: Cole Hamels, +3.30% (boring)
    – Biggest decrease in CB%: Bronson Arroyo, -9.90% (This is probably a classification issue — THT notes that his curve/slider are very similar, and lo and behold, he throws 9.6% “more” sliders this year.)

    – Biggest increase in CH%: Scott Olsen, +8.70% (to augment his problematic fastball)
    – Biggest decrease in CH%: Jamie Moyer, -7.90% (who knows. See Derek Lowe?)

    I think looking at changes in slider/curveball numbers from year to year would be, in some instances, an interesting way to explore how pitches are classified, and whether or not these guys actually are going back and forth between slider and curve or whether the algorithms are classifying them differently.

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  3. Joe says:

    Kaz isn’t holding off on the slider to save his arm– he just hasn’t had it since his mechanics have been messed up. The man definitely needs that slider. Sure, his results look fine, but there’s nowhere near the degree of confidence that fans could have in him in ’06 and the second half of ’07. He looks like first half ’07 Kazmir, who batters fouled off over and over again until he left the game after 5 innings. He really needs to figure his slider out.

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  4. ultxmxpx says:

    I posted a game log of kazmir with pitch selection (link below), but I haven’t updated since his july 2nd start.


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  5. Bobby V says:

    I’ve also been noticing this. Actually a Rays site also brought this up earlier this month, but it’s good to see other people are noticing the same thing. He has been throwing it a little bit more latey.


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  6. philosofool says:

    I have to say, I’m always deeply skeptical when people start to look at pitches to explain pitching. There must be some relation, but I don’t know that anyone knows what it is. As far as I’ve seen, looking at pitches to explain pitching remains a speculative art rather than science at this point–I’m really hoping the Pitch F/X helps us rectify the situation.

    Since Kaz saw a 10% drop in his slider rate from 2006 to 2007 with no corresponding drop in his GB% (42% to 43%), I don’t think that the evidence that your presenting really supports your case. If the slider is the explaination, we should expect to see a linear decrease in GB% with the linear decrease in slider tossing. But that’s not what we see.

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  7. philosofool says:

    I should explain just a little of that last comment: when I talk about using pitches to explain pitching, I’m talking about the relationship between individual pitches and the outcomes of plate appearances and balls in play. I don’t think anyone yet understands what the relationship between individual pitches and individual plate appearances is.

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