by Devon Teeple
At some point, every player’s career comes to an end. Regardless of age or how good you may think you are, the powers that be can make it all go away.
A few short years ago, Scott Kazmir was at a crossroads in his career. Injuries, control problems, and a lack of confidence haunted him. Whatever the cause, his career was all but over.
Until 2013, Kazmir’s last appearance at the Major League level came with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2011. He appeared in one game, surrendered five runs and was promptly released. His future was then in limbo, and the once promising career of this first-round draft pick was uncertain.
Drafted by the New York Mets in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, Kazmir was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays two years later as part of one of the worst trades in recent memory. In return for the young lefty hurler, the Mets received Victor Zambrano, who was 9-7 with a 4.43 earned run average at the time of the trade.1
Zambrano recorded eight wins over the next three seasons, while Kazmir became the ace of a young Rays staff. Six years in Tampa saw Kazmir develop into one of the best left-handers the game had seen in quite some time. Despite a small frame (6’0, 185), he was blessed with an arm that could light up the radar gun in the mid 90’s.
Midway through the 2010 season, his fastball was clocked at a touch over 90 mph (90.5). It was the first time in his career that his fastball averaged under 91 mph. It was his first full season with the Los Angeles Angels, and his armor had begun to show cracks.
A combination of injuries and poor pitch selection were contributing factors to what became the worst three-year stretch of his career.
The signs were always there. From 2009 until 2011, his velocity2 dropped nearly five mph, and he was relying on his fastball more than ever. Batters were connecting with his pitches in the strike zone at abnormally high rates (94.7 percent in 2011), and hitters weren’t missing pitches in the strike zone (3.2% in 2011).
When Kazmir was released, it looked like he was done at the ripe old age of 27, but Kazmir wasn’t ready to throw int he towel. Despite getting pounded start after start, Kazmir battled each time he took the mound. After his release, he regrouped and started anew with the first-year independent, Sugar Land Skeeters.
As I had previously written, Kazmir’s time in Sugar Land was anything but normal. (Click here to read the entire piece.)
“The Sugar Land Skeeters took a flyer on Kazmir this past year and despite some rough patches that included a nine walk performance against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, he regained the form that once made him an All-Star, leading to people around the game to again take notice.
In 14 games with the Skeeters, he put together a 3-6 record with a 5.34 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 64 innings. Walks -his Achilles’ heel – were under control for the second half of his Skeeters season, allowing three walks or less in five of his six final starts.
His progress was seemingly over shadowed by the performances of Jason Lane (whohad just signed with the Minnesota Twins) and Roger Clemens (who started a comeback trail of his own). Yet Kazmir, determined to get back to the Show, continued his comeback, joining the Gigantes de Carlina of the Puerto Rican Winter League.”3
The Cleveland Indians took a chance by signing him to a minor league contract. It paid off for the Indians, who made it to the post-season and for Kazmir, who proved all the critics wrong.
His numbers didn’t represent anything earth-shattering; 10-9, 4.04 ERA, 158 innings, 167 strikeouts, 47 walks, 1.323 WHIP, 9.2 SO/9. Although, they were very similar to his 2008 All-Star year with the Rays, and considering where he was just a few months prior, last season can be considered the best of his career.
The rejuvenated Kazmir was granted Free Agency by the Indians, and he promptly signed4 a two-year deal worth $22 million with the Oakland Athletics. In less than half a year with the AL West-leading Athletics, Kazmir has been one of the best pitchers in the game.
In 16 starts5, he’s tied for fourth in the AL with 9 wins, and his 2.66 ERA is good for fifth. He’s been so good, even though he surrendered seven runs to the New York Mets in his last start, he still sits in the top five of the following categories: WHIP (1.01), Average Allowed (.217), Winning Percentage (.750) and Hits Per Nine Innings (7.16).
When you talk feel-good stories, the Kazmir transformation from independent cast-off to top lefty in the game is remarkable. Legendary even. There has never been, in my memory, anyone else that has gone from the top of the baseball world to the bottom and again back to the top of the mountain so quickly. Once cast side, Scott Kazmir has become a sought-after commodity again.
Devon is the Founder and Executive Director of The GM’s Perspective and a contributor at Designated For Assignment. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Currently, Devon is a Manager at a financial institution in Northern Ontario Canada, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow The GM’s Perspective on twitter and facebook. His full bio can be seen here.