For the last several years the Indians have sported one of the youngest teams in the Major Leagues.1 This youth-movement was more effect than cause; trading off a team’s major league assets in the hopes of rebuilding necessarily results in a young Major League roster. Couple that with an almost ritualistic (and rational—considering their place on the win-curve) aversion to dabbling in the free agency market, and the Indians played with a day-in, day-out roster that wouldn’t be winning any inter-squad beard-growing competitions, if you get my drift.
Perhaps it is in my nature to be carried along by circumstance, but I often found myself heralding younger players throughout this period—defending them from imaginary criticisms lobbed by no one in particular. Younger players are more exciting than those old, broken down free agents, dontcha know? They generate more wins for less money than anyone! And did I mention the prospects? MY GOD THE PROSPECTS!! How lucky we all are to live in this Land O’ Cleve, and witness the youngest and most exciting team around!
Maybe I’m overstating my former exuberance, but I feel that more often than not, I was advocating for younger players. Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson and Cody Allen and Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis—these were the ones I was telling you all to dream on. The Kotchmans and Damons and Lowes of the world were cast aside in my mind: I expected little from these Oldilocks, and was therefore not disappointed when they delivered exactly that.
I should say that I don’t think I was wrong about any of that. Younger players are inherently more valuable—both in terms of dollars and projectable talent. They are usually more exciting to watch, as they’ve not subjected their bodies to quite the same toll of abuse as their elders. Anyone who’s watched Mike Trout in Los Angeles or Buster Posey in San Francisco or Stephen Strasburg in Washington can attest to the wonders of seeing young men with talent and promise that appear to be without bound—players who we cannot imagine as being old, because part of what makes them them is their youth.
But, maybe because I am getting older myself, I’ve noticed that this Spring I’m not as focused on the youth in the Indians camp. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as the next guy to watch Trevor Bauer’s funky warm-up routines, but I find myself more drawn to players like Jason Giambi or Mark Reynolds—players who are holding on despite the fear that their best days are likely already gone.
Which brings me to Scott Kazmir. I remember first hearing his name in 2004 or 2005, back when I was just getting into fantasy baseball, learning to care about things like K/9 and WHIP. He certainly had the numbers: from his debut in 2004 through the end of the 2007 season, Kazmir struck out more than a batter per inning, maintained an ERA 23% better than league average, and had a winning percentage of .547 despite playing on the execrable Tampa Ray (Devil) Rays. From his first full season in 2005 to 2007 he averaged 30 starts per year, looking every bit the heir to CC Sabathia as baseball’s new prodigy southpaw.
And of course, there was the name: because I am an inconsiderate and ignorant boy, my first thoughts upon hearing it were not to the troubled area in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, but rather to my first love: Led Zeppelin. 2 But Led Zeppelin wasn’t really my first love, because before even them there was baseball. This was Koufax-cum-ZoSo. And I could get him in the middle-rounds of my fantasy draft.
But Kazmir of course didn’t become the next CC Sabathia. He broke down. He lost his fastball. He hasn’t pitched more than 150 innings since 2008. Outside of 1.2 ugly innings in 2011 (with a 86 mph fastball velocity), he’s not pitched in the Majors since 2010, when he went 9-15 with a 5.94 ERA and a K/9 rate of only 5.6. While he’s not old in the real world, 29 year old pitchers with injury histories and velocity charts that resemble the Grand Canyon are not typically safe bets. They are more often put out to pasture. They take scouting jobs or coach for their old high schools. They become, effectively, old men, overnight.
Which is all the more reason to root for Kazmir’s resurgence, at least for me. His spring has been outstanding, allowing no earned runs over eight innings of work with eight strikeouts to only one walk. Better than the (albeit meaningless) stat line, his velocity looks to be making a comeback as well. Though there are no pitch/fx cameras in the minor league parks, Kazmir’s velocity looks to be trending upward, especially if you believe the pitcher himself, who claims to be up nearly 10 mph from his nadir.
Regardless, it’s looking more and more likely that Kazmir will break camp as the team’s fifth starter, as Daisuke Matzusaka accepted his assignment to Columbus and Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer still have minor league options. And rather than instinctively putting up a fight over this—pulling for the young, talented kids over the retread hoping for one more shot—I find myself excited that I might get the chance to write about Kazmir this season.
Maybe it’s my sore hamstring that just won’t heal, or the grey hairs I keep noticing near my temples, or the extra ten pounds that’s been particularly stubborn this year, but for the first time in a long time, the player I’m looking forward to most isn’t a young hot shot over-flowing with potential. It isn’t the latest promise the front office made, or the prospect we got for pennies on the dollar.
No, it’s an oft-injured retread at the back of the rotation that any team could’ve signed for the league minimum. It’s a guy who’s up against age and injury, hoping he can still be what he used to. It’s a guy you’d probably bet against, if only you could get someone to take the bet.
I wonder if it doesn’t say more about me than him that I’m looking so forward to writing about Scott Kazmir this season.
Photo Credit: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer
Here’s the Age-Chart I promised you; the yearly ages are an average of Bat_Age and Pitch_Age from baseball-reference.com:
- Averaging baseball-reference’s BatAge and PitchAge—an admittedly crude estimate—suggests that since the beginning of the 2008 season, only three teams have been younger: the Oakland A’s, the Kansas City Royals, and the Florida South Beach Marlins of Miami. I’ll put the full table beneath this article for your enjoyment, because, well, I like you, man. [↩]
- Of course, while the region and the song share a spelling, it differs slightly from that of the pitcher. Let’s not split hairs here, dude. And anyways, “Zs” are cool, and you freaking know it. [↩]