Selling Scott Kazmir

Starting pitchers need to be treated like stocks. Perceived value is more important than inherent value. When a stock becomes overvalued compared with your valuation estimate, you sell it, even if the company is a good one. The same goes for pitchers. I’m a fan of Scott Kazmir, think he will remain a good pitcher and solid fantasy option and I continue to be in awe at his career revival. But, it’s time to sell. And that’s precisely what I did yesterday in my local 12-team mixed league.

**Keep in mind that I am typing this before his start last night.

We’ll start with the obvious — Kazmir’s 2.56 ERA is far below his 3.59 SIERA, hinting that a correction, perhaps a major one, is coming. While we could seemingly always argue why pitcher A should outperform his SIERA and pitcher B should underperform his because of X, Y, and Z, the vast majority of pitchers will eventually regress toward what their underlying peripherals suggest. So yeah, it’s true that the Athletics have an above average defense by UZR/150 and play in a pitcher-friendly home park. But still, it’s simply not enough to prevent Kazmir’s ERA from rising, and likely above 3.00.

The next concern is two-fold. It relates to both his fastball and strikeout rate. One is driving the other and both are going in the wrong direction. Last year, we were all amazed that Kazmir was all of a sudden averaging over 92 mph with his fastball again. This was the same guy who averaged just 86.5 mph in his 1.2 innings in 2011 and not above 92 since 2007. Since he did throw this hard when he first debuted in the Majors, it wasn’t too outrageous to believe that a healthy, mechanically-tweaked Kazmir 2.0 could sustain this velocity jump. But it wasn’t to be.

Below is the velocity graph of his two-seam fastball.

Kazmir velocity

While he enjoyed an uptick beginning in his eighth start last season and then sustained that increased velocity for the most part all year, his fastball has lost steam this year, declining two miles per hour. That decline has resulted in a drop in the pitch’s SwStk%, from 7.3% to just 4.7%. His slider has also seen a dip in SwStk%, perhaps due to the slower fastball. However, curiously his changeup has offset some of that as its SwStk% has increased. On the whole though, Kazmir’s percentage of strikes swinging has dropped from an above average 16.8% to just about average 14.9%. It’s no surprise then that his strikeout percentage now sits below 20%, after finishing at 24.1% last year.

So his stuff is clearly a little less effective this year. But maybe he’s becoming more of a pitcher than a thrower you say? Look at his walk rate! He has displayed pinpoint control and has perhaps given up some velocity for better command! This is the standard canned response when looking at a pitcher who has combined a velocity and walk rate decline with a better ERA. The problem with that theory in Kazmir’s case is that he’s not actually throwing more strikes than last year. In fact, his strike percentage has dropped from 66.3% to 65.2%. It’s not a significant drop, but it’s there. In actuality, the primary driver of his improved walk rate aside from good (lucky?) sequencing is the fact that more balls are being put into play. Obviously, a hitter can’t walk if he puts the ball in play. So although Kazmir’s control has genuinely improved immensely since his younger days, it’s not really this good, and he’s certainly not sacrificing velocity for control.

The remaining elephant in the room is Kazmir’s health. We all know about his history so there’s no need to fully rehash it. He only pitched 158 innings last year. He hasn’t thrown more than 165 innings since 2007. He dealt with triceps tightness during spring training. He was removed from a start in mid-April with a sore triceps. You see the pattern here. You just cannot possibly bank on him remaining fully healthy and taking his spot in the rotation every fifth game over the rest of the season.

Kazmir’s value is seemingly at a peak. His ERA is well below 3.00, his WHIP barely above 1.00, he has five wins, and he plays for the American League West division leader. There won’t be a better time to flip him for a high return than now.




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


53 Responses to “Selling Scott Kazmir”

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  1. ejschmidt826 says:

    And now how do you feel?

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  2. quinceleather says:

    nice article, but what did u get in the trade for him? no one likes to value pitchers “fairly” and I cant believe that in a competitive league his value wont already be discounted to his SIERA……just saying that everyone hates him now anyway….would u sell kuechel for kazmir? bailey? a decent closer?

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  3. angelo says:

    I tried selling h high on kazmir earlier in the season and couldn’t convince anyone. What kind of return can I get now that everyone is sure disaster is coming any day?

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    • Adam says:

      I’ve had this same problem. Pitched him for everybody. Even scrubs like Grant Balfour (I only have one legit closer on my team). Nobody wants him. I get that nobody thinks he’s a sub-3 ERA pitcher, but c’mon, the guy still has value. Right?

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  4. quinceleather says:

    exactly my point angelo….and so what if he is a 15 game winner in 150 innings and has a 3.5 ERA and 1.1 WHIP–any replacement I get wont match that. I love you mike, I just hate these sell high/buy low articles because once you write it, everyone is aware and expectations are adjusted accordingly.

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  5. Chicago Mark says:

    Are we to think Kazmir will perform at a level that will bring his ERA/WHIP all the way up to his SIERA numbers or is he expected to perform at the level of his current SIERRA levels ROS? I would expect the latter.

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  6. srpst23 says:

    It is still Scott Kazmir, and even if your league-mates aren’t reading RotoGraphs,they are still expecting a heavy discount because …. He’s Scott Kazmir. I just tried to trade him straight up for BHam as the only category I’m weak in is steals. I was laughed at. The response was “It’s Scott Kazmir, why would I want him”

    I guess my point is that both saber-friendly and non-staty league-mates are going to expect a hefty discount, just for different reasons. I’d rather hold him, regression be damned, than trade him for pennies on the dollar.

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  7. Matt says:

    It’s easy to say “sell high” on a guy like Kazmir, but the reality is that unless you find a dummy you’re going to get lowballed.

    Nobody values pitchers by ERA anymore. Throw in the fact that not a single one of your league mates thinks he’ll top 150 innings, and you’re just not going to get a decent return.

    With a young guy hitting triple digits you might be able to snooker someone into buying the upside. Guys like Kazmir, Hudson, etc who are already well established you’re better off just holding and enjoying the production.

    I dunno, maybe I’m not good at trading, but in my experience unless you’re selling young upside, “sell high” never works since everyone knows how to look at perhipheral stats.

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    • Urban Shocker says:

      This. In my experience, when you catch some type of rebound in a veteran you just enjoy the production.

      Interestingly, Hudson, Buehrle & Kazmir were 77, 78, and 79 pitchers taken on ESPN. Enjoy the ride.

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  8. ALEastbound says:

    I agree with the comments here. Kazmir is such a beat up name that there really is no point in trying to even shop him. It’s like trying to convince someone Blackberry has value. Even though it might have decent upside at $7-8/share people only remember the dramatic fall from grace.

    His overall swinging strike rate is 9.7%, career mark is 10.6 (last year 10.1). He is pounding the zone much more frequently (52%) and generating a career high 49.2% ground ball rate (career 39%).

    Only one start but last night against the Detroit Tigers no less his velocity (according to Brooks) was 93.6 on 21 4-seamers, 92.3 on 32 ‘sinkers’ and he generated a ridonk 37% whiff rate on 27 change-ups. I think the only play is to sit tight and let Kazmir continue prove he is more of a ground ball machine playing in a great ballpark for a great team.

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    • Matt says:

      Yup. That’s exactly how I feel about this type of performance. Don’t trade him just because his stat line will regress. Even the regressed performance is going to be pretty damn good, so hold on and enjoy it.

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    • Emcee Peepants says:

      I was going to post something similar, according to Pitchf/x he has pretty much abandoned his 4 seamer (Brooks data seems a little wonky on 4 vs. 2 seam for him) for the 2 seamer and is throwing a cutter he didn’t have before last season. Both those pitches are more meant to induce weak contact than strike people out, and Kazmir has been excellent at that this year. He’s a GB pitcher now, not a K pitcher, and that’s probably a much better way for him to sustain his success.

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  9. Brad says:

    Who did you get in return Mike?

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  10. Ben WMD says:

    I was able to get Matt Cain for Kaz, which may or may not be a wash.

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  11. Surprised by all these comments that no one wants Kazmir. I guess my assumption of his perceived value was off? Maybe I still value him higher than everyone else even after the sell recommendation!

    For those still curious:

    Kazmir and Arcia for Homer Bailey and Holliday (non-keeper)

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    • cavebird says:

      At least from where I am standing, you are off on his perceived value. Despite last year (I got him off the wire then), I still was able to get him for $3 at auction [I had to pay $12 for Dan Straily, oops], and he seems to have no trade value. For me, I think he’s just one of those guys who have more value to my team than I could ever get in trade, and I’ll just ride him until his arm falls off, which, given that this is Scott Kazmir, should happen any day now.

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      • srpst23 says:

        Yeah there really was no respect at the draft this year for him, I got him for a dollar, but spent 18 on Salazar, so it has kind of evened out so far.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Pretty much nobody seems to think Kazmir was amazingly “legit” last year, or at least worried about him, due to his dramatic fall from grace. Another reason is because Kazmir did not pitch many innings per game last year: A 3.00 ERA who pitches 6.5 IPG is much more valuable than a 3.00 ERA who pitches for 5.0 IPG, because it counts for more in ERA. Personally, I’m a fan of Kazmir, and I think even his regressed performance could be pretty good, so I’m holding.

      However, if I could get people to seriously take Arcia/Kazmir for Bailey/Holliday, I’d take it in a heartbeat. That’s straight-up highway robbery. I don’t think I could get that for Kazmir in the leagues I own him.

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    • Chicago Mark says:

      I agree with you Mike. Kaz showed good peripherals last year and they aren’t bad this year. He has to have more value than many of these readers are showing. If many are happy to keep him and gain profit, there have to be others who can see that profit potential too.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        The problem is that if people think he’ll get worse but still profitable, they’ll buy him based on that projection, which isn’t really selling high. I’ve poked out Kazmir a few times for bites and just nothing much has popped up but obvious lowballs.

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  12. bdsparty32 says:

    Velocity looked good last night, as he hit 94 on numerous occasions. And I agree with most of the comments here, no one is giving up anything worth while for Kazmir in any of my leagues. Now maybe that changes after his start last night, but at this point the best move is to hold on and hope he stays healthy.

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  13. Matt says:

    Just got Bailey in return

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  14. mitch001 says:

    I agree that people tend to turn up their nose at Kazmir, but that’s fine. I didn’t have to pay/risk much to get him (picked him up off the wire), and even with a regression he’ll still be really good. Not to mention – he’s a really fun player to own and root for.

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  15. mar_ar says:

    with the same idea in mind, i peddled kazmir around my league for about a week, and no one was biting on anything like what you got. in a 13 team league with 9 P’s and 5 OF’s, i traded kaz and bourn (who i was going to drop anyways) for coco crisp. that was by far the best i was getting in counter offers.

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  16. Gargar says:

    Had a similar problem with many commenters… I had Quintana and teams told me they valued them the same, but I still dealt Kaz because of the injury/velo concerns…

    Dealt Kazmir, Butler and Calhoun for Whitley, Doubront, Lind and Soriano. Did I undersell him? I already knew my leaguemates weren’t valuing him like an ace.

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  17. Zach says:

    FOR THOSE OF YOU WONDERING

    I am the one who made the great with the great Mike Podhorzer, it’s as follows…

    Scott Kazmir & Oswaldo Arcia for Matt Holliday & Homer Bailey.

    Obviously I sold the Holliday side. I’m extremely high on Arcia (you all should be too) so I don’t mind tossing Matt Holliday and his probable 17-21 HR ceiling for the unknown with Arcia. Pod I’d say the over under for Holliday HR’s should be at 20.5 today. I’m taking the under.

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  18. Noah Baron says:

    Question guys… how do you join an expert league? I’m in two fantasy baseball leagues, but as the only one in either league who reads fangraphs and understands sabermetrics my team is unfairly good (I drafted Kluber, Kazmir, and Rizzo in the late rounds, picked up Morneau, K-Rod, Kennedy, McCarthy and Keuchel off waivers and traded a reliever for Homer Bailey). While I enjoy fleecing the other team members, it’s not as fun knowing that there are so many other people out there that know as much as you know if not more. I’m looking to join a more competitive league with fellow statheads, but I don’t have a credit card. Advice?

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    • You don’t “join” an expert league. You get invited into one. The first step is to start writing about fantasy baseball…well, and try your best to get noticed. Whether that means starting your own blog or applying to sites by sending writing samples or something, it’s a must.

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      • Jason B says:

        So really, expert leagues are more of a “baseball writer” league, or “fairly well-known guy who writes about baseball” league. “Expert league” may be a misnomer, insofar as just writing baseball (even fantasy baseball) does not necessarily make one an expert therein. (Say a writer finishes no better than 4th over a 10-year period; it would be a stretch to call him an ‘expert’ based on results even if he writes 10 fantasy baseball articles a week.)

        What am I getting at? I forgot. I guess that ‘writing about baseball’ and ‘being good at fantasy baseball’ are not really the same thing, so “expert league” seems kinda presumptuous or haughty.

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      • You are correct. Sometimes we call them industry leagues. From first hand experience, I could tell you that I do not consider the majority of industry folk “experts”. They are no better a player than your standard Yahoo leaguer.

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      • BB says:

        If anyone is still reading this thread, I would be interested in the answer to Mr. Baron’s underlying question — how can he find a more competitive league(s) to play in?

        I think he inadvertently threw in a red herring by referring to “expert leagues.” What he is really looking for is simply a league he can join that has a higher level of competition than his current league. Given that his league sounds pretty unsophisticated, it seems like this should be possible.

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  19. Noah Baron says:

    Traded Sean Doolitle for Homer Bailey a couple days ago… hahaha

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  20. Demes us says:

    Dealt Kazmir 2 weeks ago in my Al-only league. My Kazmir and Brandon Moss for his David Price and Brett Lawrie. Thoughts?

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  21. A Thought says:

    He has completely changed his pitch selection. He is no longer throwing the 4-seamer 19-20% of the time. Seeing how his 4- seamer was a very hittable pitch that can only be a good thing. Slider has returned, curveball looks good, changeup has been fantastic, and the 2-seamer has movement. He’s throwing stuff with movement so often that I am not at all surprised by his 49% ground ball rate, something I should be surprised at because it’s completely uncharacteristic of Kazmir (who used to be an extreme fly ball pitcher). The truth is that he’s made himself into a completely new pitcher. When a guy puts up a 49% ground ball rate, a 14% line drive rate, and a 1.70 bb/9 over two full months, and gets to pitch in the coliseum and in front of the A’s defense c’mon…The guy is a stud. Don’t sell him.

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  22. Jason Powers says:

    If you actually watched his outings, his stuff has been very effective.

    His velocity was up to 94 (max 96) against the Yankees. Got 10Ks (13 swinging strikes) using effectively his change-up – which is the bigger development, he is using it more in Oakland than in Cleveland, substantially more (8-10% over Indians) – and his results are there off that modification.

    Sample size. Early on, nearly every pitcher is going to be a bit between hit max velocity and finding that comfort groove. And he is becoming more a pitcher – probably why Beane signed him gladly. His walk rate is not luck.

    From a roto standpoint, he’s not hurting you. Low ERA, WHIP, pitcher’s ballpark, a winning team (that produces offense). If you want K’s, it shouldn’t be too hard to find them – the whole league is striking out more.

    The point is: Kazmir is a guy who you balance the risk/reward. If you can’t get value/usable assets for him in trade, why trade? – thinking people that know what the know about him suddenly forget that? (If they come to you eagerly – then you will always get value; or you should.) The angle of the article is off. Pick guys to breakdown that haven’t been beat up over the years…

    Kazmir is 2014 AL Comeback player worthy. Watch him make the All-star team.

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  23. Well Bearded Vogon says:

    The velocity comments made based on the data on May 29th were odd. Notice that if you compare those 10 starts vs. his first 10 starts last year, they’re not statistically distinguishable, yet the author somehow drew the conclusion that the data indicated a velocity decline. This is like the 10 years of global cooling in the the contiguous USA argument – a conclusion drawn from the noise, not the signal. Notice that a month and a half further into the season, as I write this comment, Kazmir’s velocity has continued to trend upward almost exactly following last year’s trajectory.

    One other note: look at his change up velocity for 2014 vs. 2013 to get a clue as to this year’s performance.

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