New York Mets

Scott Kazmir: The Road to Baseball Redemption

kazmirScott Kazmir has been down a road many baseball players have taken: A road with no exit.

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.

1 – Yahoo Sports
2 – Fangraphs
3 – The GM Perspective
4 – Hardball Talk
5 – MLB.com

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 devon@thegmsperspective.com. You can follow The GM’s Perspective on twitter and facebook. His full bio can be seen here.

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Neanderthals of the Airwaves

Tori-Ahern-NY-Mets-Daniel-Murphy-wife-pic[1]

The Mets’ Daniel Murphy never could have expected the firestorm that started when he chose to take  days off to be with his wife, Tori, for the birth of their first child.

by Drew Sarver

In case you missed it, and it’s hard to believe you did since it was one of the biggest stories of the century, Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy committed treason against the government of the United States.

Wait, what? He didn’t commit treason? He robbed a bank? No? His wife had a baby and he left his team to be with her? That’s what all the hullabaloo is about?

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm. The amount of time spent on talk radio this week bashing, or simply debating, Murphy’s departure from the Mets’ start of the season, was ridiculous.

Old fashioned 50-somethings polluted sports radio,telling listeners how wrong Murphy was to leave the team to be with his wife. “Hey, the woman doesn’t need you there…”, to paraphrase WFAN’s Mike Francesa. At least Ron Darling admitted to ESPN radio’s Michael Kay that he was “…an old fashioned idiot.”

This is all began when Murphy received permission from the Mets to miss the first two games of the season to be with his wife, Victoria, for the birth of their first child.

Francesa not only criticized Murphy or anyone in his position, which according to Francesa is anyone who has the wherewithal to pay for help after the child is born.  “I have no probably with being there, but I don’t know why you need three days off.”1

“You see the birth and you get back. I mean what are you doing the first couple of days? Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days. You know that.”

“I was at the two births of my kids (I had twins) and was back at work the next day.” Well aren’t you special Mikey. Notice that he doesn’t even say “we had kids” or ” when my wife went in labor”. It’s all about Francesa and how wonderful he is. And of course,  all of Francesa’s sycophant listeners drink his Kool-Aid and called in to agree.

Things went even farther back in the dark ages when WFAN’s morning drive co-host Boomer Esiason delivered his completely antiquated and demeaning comments.

“Bottom line is that’s not me, I wouldn’t do that. Quite frankly I would have said ‘C Section before the season starts.’ I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, that is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player. … Get your ass back to work.”2 (Pretty ironic criticism coming from a couple of conservatives, whose credo is “family values”. You couldn’t have a situation that is more of  a family value than childbirth.)

As if it wasn’t bad enough to say that the pregnant mother should have surgery, which is no picnic to recover from, Esiason’s “get your ass back to work” send-off was rude and uncalled for. A day later, of course, Esiason apologized, most likely at the behest of management and sponsors.

“I want to say again on this radio show that in no way, shape or form was I advocating anything for anybody to do. I was not telling women what to do with their bodies … I would never do that. That’s their decision,” said Esiason.

“And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been. And that is my fault.

“I apologize for putting him and his wife in the midst of a public discussion that I basically started by uttering insensitive comments that came off very insensitive. And for that I apologize.”2

Boomer, you left out the part about how asinine your comments were. This isn’t the 1950’s. Women aren’t expected to be barefoot and pregnant, and cooking their man a meal. And men aren’t expected to let their significant others due all of the child rearing.

Simply put, a person makes a deal with the devil when professional sports is their chosen profession. Birthdays, play dates, first steps, talking, learning to ride a bike, communions, graduations, black eyes and broken hearts are all major milestones in a young person’s life that the pro athlete in the family is likely to miss out on.

To his credit, Murphy took the high road. “My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day (Wednesday),” said Murphy, who acknowledged he was aware of the comments.3 Mets’ manager Terry Collins stood up for his ball player (NY Daily News Andy Martino tweeted):

collinstwitter

The bottom line is that Daniel Murphy would have regretted not being at the birth of his first child for the rest of his life. He and his wife already know he’s going to miss many other significant days. Any media member that criticizes him for it, should give up their day job.

1 – cbsnews.com

2 –cnn.com

3 – newyork.cbslocal.com

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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MLB Preview: Mets Look To Amaze In 2014

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at New York Mets

by Brandon Karsten

Key Acquisitions: OF Curtis Granderson, OF Chris Young, RHP Bartolo Colon. Key Losses: LHP Johan Santana, RHP David Aardsma. Last year looked like it was going to be a great year for right-handed pitcher Matt Harvey. He won his first four starts and had a 7-2 record heading into the All-star break. He even got the chance to start the game, which was played in his home ballpark. He didn’t disappoint with a pair of innings pitched in which he struck out three batters and allowed one hit.

However, things went downhill for the youngster after the Midsummer Classic. Pain in his pitching elbow caused the Mets to shut him down  in mid-August and Tommy John surgery ensued. The injury epitomized the Mets’ hopeful start and disappointing finish.. It’s Spring Training, which means renewed hope for the team and for Harvey. Despite not being able to pitch in 2014, the New York Times reported Harvey started to throw from 60 feet for the first time since the October surgery, and felt good afterward.1

For 2014, however, the Mets will have to turn to other players to pick up the slack to improve on last year’s 74-88 record. The Mets made some moves this offseason hoping to improve on last year’s lackluster offense. They signed free agent outfielder Curtis Granderson after he played four years for the cross-town Yankees. The amiable Chicago native signed a manageable four-year, $60 million deal. The 32-year-old speedster had a bad year in 2013 due to injuries to his forearm and pinkie finger as a result of hit by pitches. He was limited to 61 games after back-to-back 40 home runs seasons for the Yanks. Granderson is expected to bat cleanup behind veteran third baseman David Wright in 2014.2

The Mets continued to add potential power to their outfield when they signed Chris Young to a one-year, $7.25 million pact in late November. Young played with Oakland last year and though he hit just .200 in 107 games played, he’s hit 20 or more home runs four times in his career. With the Young signing, the question the Mets have to answer is where to put Granderson, Young, Juan Lagares and possibly Eric Young, Jr in the Citi Field outfield.3 New York then turned to Oakland ace Bartolo Colon and inked him to a two-year, $20 million deal 4.

Additionally, the Mets signed a number of players to minor league deals, including Jeremy Hefner, veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth, and swing-man John Lannan. But the most notable addition was Daisuke Matsuzaka, better known as Dice-K. Matsuzaka started last year with Cleveland, but asked for his release in August and got it, and the Mets then picked him up almost immediately. Among the minor league prospects that hope to join the Mets in the not to distant future  include right-handed starting pitcher Noah Snydergaard.

Snydergaard was originally the Toronto Blue Jays’ 38th overall draft pick from 2010, but went to the Mets in a trade that included former N.L. Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in the 2012-13 offseason. Snydergaard started the 2013 season in Port St. Lucie and ended in double-A Binghamton with a chance to pitch in the Futures Game for Team USA in between those stops. He received  non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year, though the New York Daily News reported that the Mets expect him to start the year in Triple-A Las Vegas.

Like Snydergaard, catcher Travis d’Arnaud came over to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade and looks to go north with the team after Spring Training. d’Arnaud made his major league debut in mid-August of last year and hit .202 in 31 games. Twenty-three-year old Zack Wheeler came to the Mets from the San Francisco Giants organization in a 2011 trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the Giants. Wheeler made his highly-anticipated Major League debut in mid-June at Atlanta. His 2013 stats include a 7-5 record and  84 strikeouts in 100 innings pitched.

With all of the teams in the NL East upgrading their rosters this winter, the Mets will have their work cut out for them to compete for the division title. But confidence is high in the Mets camp with GM Sandy Alderson and team captain David Wright telling ESPN reporter Adam Rubin 90 wins is a very attainable goal for 2014.  Our own Jim Monaghan takes a look at whether or not the Mets’ goal is attainable.

3 – ESPN.com
Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com

Mets, 90 Wins? Maybe Sandy’s Not So Off-Base

By Jim Monaghan

Sandy Alderson

Sandy Alderson
(photo courtesy NY Daily News)

At a staff meeting late last month, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson raised more than a few eyebrows when he said that the Mets are capable of winning 90 games in 2014.   Once details on that meeting got out (as reported by John Harper in the New York Daily News), the laughs and the one-liners started flying.

First, the reality – the Mets are coming off five straight losing seasons.  There’s no Matt Harvey coming through that locker room door to pitch every fifth day until 2015 (though Harvey did tweet this morning that “Harvey Day 2014” will happen).

https://twitter.com/MattHarvey33/status/442281918965743616

And we still have no concrete idea just how much the Bernie Madoff financial scandal has strangled ownership’s ability to spend enough cash to field a competitive team.

But while the media may be laughing all the way to their laptops and twitter accounts, and the fans (and maybe even Mets players) may be skeptical, perhaps there’s a method to Alderson’s madness that goes beyond whatever the Mets’ final win tally will be in 2014.

As much as anything else, the Mets organization needs an attitude adjustment.  Alderson’s proclamation of 90 wins should be seen more as a statement that team management has raised the bar, that mediocrity isn’t going to be accepted.

Following the Red Sox 2013 World Series victory, I had the chance to speak with two senior team executives.  One told me that while the organization knew the team would perform better simply by the change in managers from Bobby Valentine to John Farrell, no one really expected the end result the organization got.  The other executive put it in different terms telling me, “We went out and got guys who loved to play baseball and who wanted to be here.  If you didn’t want to be here, we didn’t want you here.”

Sandy Alderson’s 90-win statement should be taken by players in the organization, from low-A ball to Citi Field as a sign that anything less than a desire to win and an expectation to win will not be tolerated.  Organizational attitude adjustments need to start from the top.  This is a good sign for the Mets.  Oh, and they might want to sign Stephen Drew to play shortstop, too.  Just sayin’.

For more on the Mets’ offseason moves and the 2014 season, check out Brandon Karsten’s Mets’ preview.

Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.”  He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River.  Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.