July 23, 2014

On Scott Kazmir and My Impending Middle Age

Scott KazmirFor 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

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Here’s the Age-Chart I promised you; the yearly ages are an average of Bat_Age and Pitch_Age from baseball-reference.com:

Tm 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 5-YEAR AVG
OAK 26.9 27.3 26.9 28.2 27.8 27.4
KCR 27.8 28.3 28.2 26.1 26.7 27.4
FLA 27.3 26.7 27.0 27.7 28.6 27.4
CLE 28.2 27.6 26.9 27.3 27.7 27.5
ARI 28.1 27.1 27.4 27.9 27.9 27.6
PIT 27.5 26.7 27.6 27.7 29.0 27.7
WSN 27.6 27.9 28.6 28.0 27.1 27.8
MIN 27.0 27.8 28.5 28.0 28.3 27.9
TBR 27.4 28.2 27.9 28.1 28.9 28.1
COL 28.0 28.2 28.5 28.2 28.1 28.2
SDP 29.6 27.4 28.2 28.1 27.7 28.2
SEA 29.1 28.6 28.3 28.1 27.5 28.3
CIN 28.7 28.5 28.6 28.2 28.0 28.4
TEX 27.9 27.8 28.0 29.0 29.3 28.4
BAL 29.0 28.4 28.6 28.3 27.8 28.4
DET 30.1 28.1 27.7 28.2 28.1 28.4
ATL 27.9 28.9 29.4 28.7 28.0 28.5
TOR 29.7 29.2 28.7 28.0 27.9 28.7
SFG 28.4 28.9 28.7 29.4 28.9 28.8
LAA 28.3 29.1 28.9 28.7 29.5 28.9
CHC 29.5 29.2 28.8 29.3 27.9 28.9
MIL 29.3 29.7 28.6 29.1 29.1 29.1
LAD 29.0 28.8 29.2 29.2 29.7 29.1
NYM 29.6 29.3 29.0 29.1 29.1 29.2
HOU 31.0 31.4 29.6 27.7 26.9 29.3
CHW 29.4 29.7 29.8 29.2 28.7 29.3
STL 29.5 29.3 29.5 29.8 28.9 29.4
BOS 29.5 29.9 30.2 30.2 29.0 29.7
NYY 30.9 29.9 30.3 30.8 31.5 30.7
PHI 30.4 31.3 31.5 30.4 30.1 30.7
Grand   Total 28.7 28.6 28.6 28.5 28.4 28.6

 

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Footnotes:

  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Jon you probably aren’t hung up on the youthful potential of the Indians because unlike the last five years there is an over abundance of talent thanks to the spending spree this offseason. Offensive talent I should say the pitching, namely starting, is still scary. I watched the last two games on STO and saw Masterson surrender two homeruns and five runs in the first inning before going on to pitch scoreless innings. Followed that up yesterday watching Ubaldo “work” throughout his start. He didn’t get roughed up by any stretch and only walked one but let me tell you Marson had his glove full. I think we all are hoping Kazmir can continue to do what he’s doing believe me.

  • mgbode

    I am most excited to see Kipnis and Santana hit in a lineup that is not wholly dependent on them.

    I’m expecting Kazmir to do well for the first few months and start to fizzle as his arm isn’t likely built for 200IP this year. Hopefully, Carrasco and Bauer are ready to pick up his slack by then.

  • WFNYJon

    Yeah, like I said, I think I’m carried along by circumstance sometimes: when the team goes young, I like young players. When they go old, I like the graybeards. Again, prolly says more about me than anything else.

    Also, I didn’t catch Ubaldo’s start, but the game was still going when I got home from work: 5.1 IP, 5Ks and 1 BB. I don’t care what Marson’s glove has to do to get that stat line. I’ll take it.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think you’ve hit on some truth here… hopefully if the Indians are wise, they will see this happening to Kazmir quickly and place him on the 60-day DL with some bogus injury rather than trotting him out there for 2 months before they see that yep, he’s really out of gas.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Deceiving stat line by Ubaldo which was my original point sorry if it got lost. He really had to work harder then he should have IMO.

  • mgbode

    oh great. now, I’m worried about them being stubborn with him. Francona has got to have some type of history we can reflect on. I’ll try to look something up later and hopefully soothe these newfound fears.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    My diabolical plan is coming to fruition!

    BTW, pulling this from my rear, but I am pretty sure Josh Beckett found himself on the BS DL a few times when he was seemingly fine but was having command problems.

  • mgbode

    Beckett’s faux DL time was mostly done because he was terrible (2010). That was the infamous “back spasms” he had when he was caught out golfing the next day while on the DL.

    But, he had an ERA near 6 that year. So, Boston likely was just trying to get his head back on straight.

  • Harv 21

    I was (very moderately) into the youth because, well, what else was there? Same desperate absence of choice that made Cleve fans deify Peyton Hillis and Josh Cribbs.

    Kazmir is more realistic than Lowe or Damon – younger, objective indicators like MPH trending upward post major injury. Swisher’s consistent track record and Bourne’s recent excellence are all better bets than Masterson returning to the form of his one good year or that Santana decides contact > long, loopy homer swings. I’ll wait for the young guys to do it before I jump on their bandwagon. Options for optimism are nice.

  • Toddyus

    Jon, well-composed piece. Nicely done.

  • Chuck Crow

    It really is all about you, isn’t it?

  • WFNYJon

    Of course :)

    Put another way: All writing is autobiography.