It’s a bit surprising Scott Kazmir hasn’t signed with a team yet, considering David Price, Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto all signed relatively quickly this winter. And he could end up being one of the biggest bargains of the offseason.
Kazmir, 32 next month, was a once can’t-miss prospect who infamously traded to Tampa from the Mets for Victor Zambrano in a move that is still, to this day, one of the worst in that franchise’s history. He was decent in his six years with the (Devil) Rays, but things fell apart after that. He was traded to the Angels and was abysmal in his three seasons: 35 starts, 5.31 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 5.7 K/9. It looked like his career was over. He even took a year off from Major League Baseball in 2012. Cleveland took a flyer on him in 2013 and he pitched to a 4.04 ERA, 3.51 FIP and 9.2 K/9. Not bad after not having pitched for more than a year. He signed a value free-agent deal with Oakland and had the best stretch of his career with the A’s: 50 starts, 3.12 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 8.0 K/9. A late-July trade to Houston would have him pitch for his fifth franchise. It also eliminated any possibility of him getting a qualifying offer.
So here we are on Dec. 29, and Kazmir is still unsigned. A handful of teams have expressed interest in him, including the Dodgers. Despite a left-handed-heavy projected rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson, Hyun-jin Ryu), Kazmir’s addition to the team would be welcome.
Aside from Kershaw, no Dodger starting pitcher is projected to have a wins above replacement of more than 2.7 (Anderson). Ryu is projected at 2.4 and Wood at 1.9. There’s no telling what Ryu is going to do in 2016. If he can get back to his 2013-14 levels of production, the incessant offseason hand-wringing about not having a No. 2 starter will have been for naught. That’s a big if, though.
Kazmir is projected to be a 2.5-win pitcher right now. While he isn’t the lights-out ace-potential pitcher he was when he was drafted, he’s plenty capable and probably worth a nice 2-to-3-year deal.
- Jim Bowden (“Ralph”), ESPN: 4 years, $66 million
- Dave Cameron, FanGraphs: 3 years, $42 million
- Ken Davidoff, NY Post: 4 years, $68 million
- Tim Dierkes, MLB Trade Rumors: 4 years, $52 million
- Jim Duquette, MLB.com: 3 years, $36 million
- Jon Heyman, CBS Sports: 3 years, $39 million
Some varying opinions on Kazmir’s market. I’m assuming most of these had Kazmir signing sooner rather than later. The average annual value of the six predictions above is $14.25 million. A 2-year, $30-$36 deal (with an option) could be beneficial for the Dodgers, as it would lessen the time commitment while paying more per season for that benefit. It could benefit Kazmir because he’d be making $30-plus million to pitch a baseball. Then again, he could easily hold out for three guaranteed years, but it isn’t a sure thing the team that offers him three years offers him enough money and is a contending team (if that’s important to him).
Kazmir was once power fastball/slider guy with a decent changeup. Now, he’s more of a slightly above-average fastball guy with a good changeup and a cut-fastball.
As you can see, his 4-seam fastball usage has fallen considerably in his last eight seasons. His sinker has picked up in that time as well, but he’s not an extreme ground ball pitcher by any means (43.8 percent in 2014 is his career-best).
What has improved most is his command. He was a wild pitcher who struck out a lot of hitters early on. A sexy 9.7 K/9 also came with an ugly 4.1 BB/9. Since coming back in 2013 he owns a more-than acceptable 8.1 K/9 and a good 2.6 BB/9. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working for him. He’s a much better pitcher now than he was early in his career (when he was a thrower).
And if you’re worried about having too many lefties in the rotation, Kazmir has actually posted reverse platoon splits the last two seasons.
- 2014: .227/.280/.360, .285 wOBA (league-average is .320)
- 2015: .225/.301/.344, .285 wOBA
In his first season back (2013), he was better against lefties (.226/.251/.321) than righties (.275/.339/.455), but he has shown an ability to be effective against right-handed hitters recently.
Kershaw can get any hitter out, so his splits are moot. Anderson had a higher slugging percentage allowed to righties (thanks to 17 home runs) in 2015, but had a better batting average an on-base percentage against against righties. Even Ryu has been more successful against righties (.247/.290/.353) in his career than lefties (.276/.317/.390). Wood is the pitcher who had the traditional platoon splits — .223/.243/.274 against lefties, .292/.359/.429 against righties — in 2015.
Just for fun …
169 IP, 3.77 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 21.0 K%, 6.9 BB%, 2.5 WAR
207 IP, 3.18 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 21.0 K%, 5.9 BB%, 3.1 WAR
The statlines above are 2016 Steamer projections. Pitcher A is Kazmir, Pitcher B is Cueto. Cueto signed for 6 years and $130 million (with an opt-out after two years). Is Cueto at $23 million a year for two years (with the risk of him getting hurt and/or underperforming and not opting out) better than Kazmir at $15-18 million for two years (if he accepts)? The innings pitched are the biggest difference — and it does matter — but the rate stats are pretty close. It isn’t as absurd a question as it may appear on the surface.
And let’s face it: Someone is going to get hurt and/or be ineffective. When that time comes, Brandon McCarthy could be there to pick up the slack. He’d also give the Dodgers’ rotation a different look from the right side. If a pitcher is needed before McCarthy is ready, there is always Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee (stop laughing, Mike), and yet-to-debut pitchers in Jharel Cotton and Jose De Leon.
Kenta Maeda is a real option for the Dodgers, too. He’s right-handed, so that plays in his favor. There are concerns about his stuff translating to the every-fifth-day workload (as opposed to the once-a-week workload in Japan), which might make Kazmir a more attractive option. Factor in the $20 million posting fee ($13 million in 2016, $7 million in 2017) paid to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, on top of whatever contract he ends up getting — likely a 3-5 year deal worth at least $10 million annually (both potentially conservative guesses) — and Kazmir at 2-3 years and $15 million annually might end up being the better decision. Or, just sign them both. Not my money.
Kazmir seems likely a worthwhile gamble, and there could still be a trade. Wood could easily be moved in a deal for another pitcher, a bat, prospects, etc. That could clear up some of the left-handedness of the rotation. I’m of the opinion as long as a pitcher can get hitters out, I don’t really care with which arm he throws.