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.