When 27 is Old

Only three springs ago, Scott Kazmir was the ace of an up-and-coming Tampa Bay Rays staff. Just a few years prior, Kazmir formed the punchline of Jim Duquette’s general managerial career, with the former executive forking over the young stud for the paltry cost of one Victor Zambrano. Even though the franchise was young, there were two clear faces for the newly de-deviled Rays: Carl Crawford at the plate and in left field, and Kazmir as the ace of the staff. Over the three years prior, Kazmir had broken out as one of the top pitchers in the game, racking up 13 Wins Above Replacement during his ascension.

Now, fast forward. The Rays fulfill their status as up-and-comers with an AL championship, but Kazmir’s role is somewhat muted due to injuries and an ineffective changeup. Pitchers like Matt Garza and James Shields take over the staff, and Kazmir is jettisoned during to the Angels during a 2009 season that can now be described as a recharge for Tampa Bay. In 2010, the Rays return to the top of the AL East while Kazmir languishes at the bottom of the Angels rotation, “producing” 0.8 wins below replacement with everything in his repertoire seemingly down the toilet. Remember ace Scott Kazmir of Tampa Bay? Seems like ages ago.

It probably seems like ages ago to the 27-year-old Kazmir as well, who gets another chance in 2011 as the fifth starter – fifth starter! – in the rotation of the Anaheim Angels. Even though 2008 and 2009 hadn’t been great years for him, Kazmir had at least been competent, producing between two and three WAR each season and posting FIPs in the 4.20-4.40 range. Two-thousand-and-ten, however, was the kind of season we have come to expect out of pitchers in their mid-30s. Kazmir’s fastball velocity dropped below 91.0 MPH for the first time in his career, down from 93.7 in 2004 and the 91-92 range it had settled in over the meat of Kazmir’s career. His slider saw a similar dip in velocity as well.

With the velocity went the effectiveness. For the first time since 33.1 raw innings as a 20-year-old in 2004, Kazmir’s fastball was below average by pitch type values. The slider fell from marginally below average to well below average, and the changeup became completely useless. In his uphill climb to retain his effectiveness of yesteryear, Kazmir will have to revive not just one but all three of his pitches.

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that Kazmir has shown decline at such a young age. His MLB career began before some receive their first full-time job. The 1,017 innings he’s thrown at age 27 are more than many starters throw by age 30. Perhaps Scott Kazmir shows that age is but a number, and as much as that can mean interminable MLB life for the Livan Hernandezes and Jamie Moyers of the world, it can mean a swift end for the seemingly youthful Kazmirs as well.




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31 Responses to “When 27 is Old”

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  1. Zak says:

    Jim Duquette actually made that trade, not Steve Phillips.

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  2. mpl says:

    I wonder if he would be better off in the bullpen. Might add a couple mph on the fastball which could enhance his effectiveness. Tough to make that move if you think there is a chance he can get back to 2-3 WAR. But seems like something has to change

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  3. Kevin says:

    His slider really flattened out and his command never really improved. He’s flashed a decent change-up and I think with his diminished fastball velocity and slider effectiveness he could reinvent himself as a fastball/change-up back-end starter with average control/command. It would take a real shift in the way he’s pitched all his life (power fastball/slider) though, and I’d need to see him throw the change-up more (though I’ve liked it when I’ve seen it).

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  4. JR says:

    Having just read Craig Wright’s piece in THT’s Annual, it’s tough not to notice that the Rays rode him pretty hard at a young age.

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    • JR says:

      Over 120 Major League starts and 12,000 pitches thrown before his 25th birthday, shut down at the end of 06 with shoulder fatigue, starts 08 with elbow problems after a career high in IP and pitches thrown in 07. Missed 6 weeks combined last year with shoulder fatigue and soreness.

      Wow, no wonder he’s boderline washed up at 27.

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      • brian says:

        If you are a team like the Rays or Marlins do you have any obligation to not ride arms as much as possible while guys are young and cheap? Guys might lose their effectiveness by their late 20s but by then they are either free agents or you have traded them at a high value. These franchises are in a similair position to college programs that know they only have 3 or 4 years to get production from their pitchers so what responsbility, if any, exists long term?

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      • The Nicker says:

        This article title, and these comments, could have been written about Jeremy Bonderman last year.

        When you add in the power fastball/slider combo, things really start to look eerily similar.

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    • Wockenfuss says:

      i agree that if the Rays rode Kazmir hard as a youngster that that could have affected his long-term effectiveness. But i don’t understand the argument made in the article that coming up to the bigs at a young age could have hurt him.
      Wouldn’t he have been throwing just as hard if he had still been in the minors?
      IMO, it’s the number of innings, the number of long innings, and the rest that count, not which park you’re throwing in.

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  5. Felix says:

    Thought this was going to be a tennis article.

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  6. adohaj says:

    I forgot how good he was through age 24

    723 IP
    9.7 K/9

    So much potential

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  7. phoenix2042 says:

    this could mean bad things for king felix one day, throwing so many innings by age 25. then again, every arm is different.

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    • Tony says:

      i have always wondered that about Felix. An honest question; what, if anything, is there about Felix that should lead us to believe he won’t be Kazmir’ed?

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      • Franco says:

        Well, Kazmir was fragile for most of his career with small nagging injuries. He was also red flagged as soon as he was drafted for having bad (aka unhealthy) mechanics. It’s why the Mets justified getting rid of him.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Here’s some in-depth looks at Kazmir’s, “above average” mechanics.

        http://www.chrisoleary.com/projects/baseball/pitching/PitcherInjuryAnalysisProject/PhotographicAnalyses/PitcherAnalysis_ScottKazmir.pdf

        They are actually pretty good. There is NO way that looking at the photos in his 1st 2 years that anyone could sayu he has bad or questionable mechanics. They’re actually pretty darn good … which is why someone at 170-lbs can throw as hard as he did.

        For those that claim “red flag mechanics”, I would ask for specifics. What specifically threw up a red flag?

        If it is just being a small-framed pitcher, then I would accept that as a red flag. Small-framed guys don;t tend to last as long as the Clemens and Schilling body types.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Looking at his IP by year, he had some build up in the minors, he had progressively heavier seasons in terms of workload. He passed 200 IP, and then it went downhill after that.

        That’s MY concern with Mat Latos. That 200 IP barrier seems to be Hell for some guys.

        To me, Kazmir’s problems are simple …

        [1] He’s a high strikeout guy
        [2] He’s a high walk guy
        [3] he throws a lot of sliders

        Is there any way for a guy like this to be durable? Randy Johnson maybe, but Unit has leverages that no one else does.

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  8. Joe says:

    Every guy is different, though. Through Sabathia’s age 26 season (2006) he had started 185 games and thrown over 1150 innings. Not only has he been fine, but his performance demonstrated a noticeable improvement in from 2007 onward.

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  9. Michael Lee says:

    The Phillips mention is fixed. thanks, guys.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    I thought this might be about Dontrelle Willis, but he’s anchient at 28.

    When it comes to pitchers 18 and under, i am strongly protective of them.

    However, when you’re a pro, you’re paid to pitch. If you’re talented the team needs you to pitch a lot. There’s no guarantee that if they had given him the “Latos Treatment” that he’d still be kicking butt today, only at a 200 IP/season clip.

    There is no universally safe or guaranteed method of increasing a pitcher’s workload. We do know this. Most guys will breakdown because of the nature of the movement and because of the anatomy and physiology of the shoulder/elbow.

    Therre are plenty of guys that are treated with kid gloves and still remain fra-gi-le (must be Italian).

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  11. BentD says:

    A lot of the inconsistency of his slider was due to his shoulder. He himself stated that his shoulder problems made it really hard for him to throw his slider from the same and proper arm slot.

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  12. Brandon says:

    Steve Avery says “Hi!”. Lots of IP early in a career generally leads to a short career.

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    • CptSpandex says:

      Every starting pitcher before 1990 says, “hi, backatcha, Stevie!” Come on! This is Fangraphs, a site for stat geeks. If you want to make wild generalization here, at least have some facts to back it up. I’ll grant you Steve Avery, even though we don’t have anything concrete to back it up. That’s one for you…

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Lots of pitchers, actually the majority, have short careers.

      This is where I would point out the professional baseball is not the only time these guys pitch. Some experience injuries in college and high school while pitching less innings. Some are ridden like crazy during HS, summer ball, and college to where they are (Literally!) throwing 180 IP from April to September at age 18.

      There was a time when pitchers would pitch in 4-man rotations, make 40 starts a year and put up 300 IP seasons.

      It amazes me that people almost seemingly expect the pitcher that averages about 300 IP per season for a 15-year career in order to illustrate that early innings do not shorten careers. Do any pitchers in the recent era fit that bill?

      The guys that can tolerate tons of innings are [1] freaks (literally), [2] conditioning nuts, [3] PED users, or [4] some combination of the 3.

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  13. Anthony says:

    is there a standard people use for innings? I know you aren’t supposed to jump guys like 30IP a year, what about total innings pitched? For hitters prime is lik 27-32ish. For pitchers should we use innings instead of age and take a closer look at that?

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  14. fredsbank says:

    kazmir and as was mentioned above dontrelle willis are good examples of cases like this, as well as maybe wood and prior?

    lets just hope nothing else happens to steve strasburg for a very, very long time….

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  15. UZR is a Joke says:

    I thought this was going to be about Jeff Francouer.

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    • Kyle says:

      Well, it seems that way, but Jeff Francouer has a better fastball than Kazmir… from RIGHT FIELD.

      Can’t believe he hasn’t been converted into a closer yet…

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