In true Halloween spirit, we have a special haunted edition of the Pitcher Profile. Ok, so it’s not even September yet, but hey, we live in a world of mass consumerism and the Halloween specials and themed sections of department stores are already up. Don’t believe me? Ask the um, French Maid, you um… you saw leaving my room last night – it was just someone breaking in the costume! I’m kidding, I’m not Jude Law.
So about a month ago, I was all set to do a Scott Kazmir Pitcher Profile then his arm died. Kinda like Jared Leto’s arm in Requiem For A Dream. After a strong stretch through mid-June to late-July, Kaz gave up 4 to the White Sox, blanked the Marlins (but a slow-pitch softball pitcher could do that), then got rocked vs. the Angels and his arm was murdered. Murder, I Wrote! But through the modern world of medicine, he got a Will Smith I, Robot replacement, then struggled with his stuff with the zombie arm in his first game back, giving up a 5 spot and 12 baserunners at Oakland. So expectations were pretty low heading into his start yesterday against the Twins, but after seeing the stat line and his return to form, I decided to break down his start and see if that velocity is back where it was a few months ago:
First Inning: Kazmir’s first pitch is a 92-MPH fastball painting the low outside corner to Brian Dozier, he hits the same spot again this time at 94 and it’s fouled off; 0-2 is a change-up at 80-MPH that’s way outside but Dozier pokes it foul, then Kazmir goes outside again with the heater at 94, and Dozier waves at it trying to protect, a strikeout to start the game. Up is Doug Bernier (literally never heard of him) who takes a fastball down the middle for strike one, then another heater at 94 on that low outside corner again is fouled back, another 0-2 count. He throws a sinking fastball that Bernier fouls off his foot, then another heater outside hitting 95 on the gun gets tipped foul, and another fastball out there gets a lazy fly ball to Michael Bourn, two down. Kazmir absolutely pounding the zone right now. He starts Josh Willingham with a 74-MPH curveball for a strike, wow if he can get those over then follow with 95 heat, gonna be a tough outing for the Twins. Kazmir spikes a change-up, first bad pitch of the game, then paints the outside low corner again at 93 and gets a swing-and-miss, 1-2. Kazmir just owning the outside corner to righties and gets another weak foul ball out there, then Kazmir throws a nasty change-up, starting on that outside corner then burying down in the zone, and gets a swing-and-miss for his 2nd K to end the inning.
Second Inning: The first pitch of the 2nd is a fastball at the knees to Ryan Doumit followed by another heater at the letters fouled off, another 0-2 count. But this time another fastball inside but getting too much of the plate is inside-outed to right center for a leadoff single. Would’ve liked to have seen something off-speed there. First pitch to Trevor Plouffe is a fastball right down the middle, Plouffe gives it a good ride to center, but Bourn’s got it right on the edge of the track, one down. Kazmir starts Wilkin Ramirez with a curveball that hangs high, then pounds the zone at 93, 1-1. Kaz loses a fastball high, then another heater on the outside corner is hit hard foul, 2-2. Kazmir gets a great change-up in the zone but it’s spoiled foul, then a great 95-MPH fastball on the knees is fouled off, followed by a fastball that buries inside in the dirt, full count. The payoff pitch is another heater at 95 on the outside corner but it’s fouled off, tough at-bat from Ramirez, then another 95-MPH fastball on the outside black at the knees gets flied out to right for an easy out, two down. Nice composure from Kazmir to get through that battle. With two outs, runner still on first, Kazmir starts Chris Colabello with a 94-MPH fastball on the hands, Colabello hits it hard but it slices just foul of the right field foul pole, had home run distance, but a loud out. 0-1 is a 95-MPH fastball just painting that outside corner again to the righty for strike 2, a change-up gets chopped foul, then again at 95 is just high and outside and Colabello is able to hold his swing, 1-2. Loving Kazmir’s velocity. And just as i say that, he goes change-up on the outside corner at 80-MPH, Colabello waves through it, and it’s the 3rd K, inning over. Great mix of speeds.
Third Inning: Still a 0-0 game, Kazmir starts Clete Thomas with a 94-MPH fastball that Thomas bunts foul, 0-1, then a laser fastball at 94 at the letters gets swung on and missed, followed by an 0-2 fastball at 94 painting the outside corner, this time to the lefty, and gets his fourth K. Great stuff. First pitch to Pedro Florimon is a fastball inside, then Florimon slashes an outside fastball foul, then paints that outside corner again, this time to the righty, for 1-2. Great control of the zone right now. Kazmir goes to the change-up, it stays in the zone a bit too long and Florimon rockets a grounder to Lonnie Chisenhall, but Chisenhall can’t make the play and it’s a double. That’s a play I’d say most ML third basemen could make, but it was hit hard. Kazmir hoping to get around it and starts Dozier with a perfect outside low fastball for strike one, then a curveball gets nubbed to Kazmir, who makes a great play scooping it up and taking it himself for the second out. Great fielding from the vet. Kazmir is high at 95 to Bernier, then loops a great mini-curveball to bend into the zone 1-1, then pounds the inside corner at 94 that looked like a perfect pitch but called a ball, 2-1. Kazmir gets a fastball at the knees through Bernier’s swing, then the 2-2 is another fastball on the inside black, hits 95 on the gun and Bernier watches it go by and it’s a called strike three, Kazmir racking up his 5th K.
Fourth Inning: Finally getting a run of support, Kazmir starts Willingham with a hanging curveball outside, then pounds the zone with a 91-MPH fastball followed by a another fastball painting the inside black, 1-2. Kazmir shakes a few off, then offers a 94-MPH fastball outside, 2-2, then a change-up dips low into the dirt, full count, and the payoff pitch is a change-up pulled foul, then a fastball on the inside corner is smacked to the third base line, and it stays fair by about 6 inches and goes up the line for a double. Nice hitting there, and a tad too much of the plate from that fastball. So the second double Kazmir has given up and he starts Doumit with a curveball that gets tapped foul, then a fastball inside followed by a change-up outside that gets tapped foul, 1-2. Kazmir then goes with the cutter at 91 high and inside, but Doumit gets a piece of it and almost muscles it to the outfield, but Jason Kipnis is able to get it on the run for the first out. Close to a bloop single there. First pitch to Plouffe is a hanger outside, then a fastball gets cut on and missed, 1-1. Kazmir throws another fastball down the middle, Plouffe weakly hits it right to short, Asdrubal Cabrera goes to third and catches Willingham in a run down, but after the return to Cabrera he bobbles it and sails his throw back to Chisenhall and Willingham makes it to third safely on the error and Plouffe gets to second. Huge error there, still only one out. So Kazmir hoping to get around the poor defense and starts Ramirez with a fastball low, then another fastball gets popped up to Drew Stubbs charging in, and the runners have to hold, two outs. Kazmir almost out of the inning and starts Colabello with a fastball for a strike, then another heater on the outside black at 94 gets a late swing-and-miss, and the 0-2 is another fastball at 95-MPH right on the outside black, Colabello takes a very late defensive swing and is miles late on it, a huge strikeout for Kazmir – his 6th – to keep the shutout alive. Great pitch.
Fifth Inning: Still a 1-0 game, Kazmir starts Thomas with a slider that gets a swing-and-miss. For a guy that throws a lot of slider, that’s the first distinct one this game for Kaz. Must be a match-up thing, or perhaps it puts too much stress on his arm and he’s not throwing as many. The next pitch is a straight fastball at the letters and Thomas is able to loop it into center for a leadoff single. That heater only at 91 was a little lackluster. First pitch to Florimon is a fastball bunted down the first base line, and Kipnis has to come over to cover and beats Florimon by half a step for a close play. So one out, Thomas moves up to second, and Kazmir is outside to Dozier, then a great curveball bends into the zone for a strike, then another fastball is outside, and the 2-1 is a fastball at the knees fouled back and out of play, 2-2. The next pitch is another curveball, it wasn’t terrible but did hang a tad on the outside edge, and Dozier flares it to right for a single moving Thomas to third. Runners at the corners, and after a few checks at first, Bernier bunts the first-pitch fastball and Nick Swisher decides not to throw home to Thomas coming in to score, then goes to throw it to first and nobody’s home, and it’s a bunt RBI single. Terrible defense there, an out should’ve been made somewhere, and Swisher could’ve gotten Thomas out pretty easily at home. So it’s runners on first and second, and Kazmir gets a swing-and-miss from Willingham on a 94-MPH fastball outside, then Kazmir tries a pickoff at second and throws the ball away even though Kipnis should’ve had it, moving Dozier to third. Runners are again at the corners after another defensive miscue, and Kazmir gets Willingham to foul one back, 0-2, then that great change-up on the outside edge at 80-MPH gets a swing-and-miss through it for the second out – 7 Ks. Two outs, Kazmir starts Doumit with a fastball way high, then is a couple feet outside with a change-up, first really bad 2-0 count this game. Another change-up is low in the dirt, 3-0 now, then gets a fastball in there at the knees, and then gets it to full with another heater fouled off. But the payoff pitch is a 95-MPH fastball at the knees, a shade too low for his first walk. Not a bad pitch, just barely didn’t clip the black. Bases loaded now, and Kazmir desperately needing that final out and starts Plouffe with a 95-MPH fastball swung-on and missed, then pounds the inside black at 96, his fastest pitch on the day, and the 0-2 is another 96-MPH fastball but barely too far inside. 1-2 now, and Kazmir goes with a change-up, Plouffe lasers it to third but it’s caught by Chisenhall to end the inning. That might’ve been the hardest hit ball that inning, but luckily for Kazmir, it found a glove.
Sixth Inning: Kazmir is at 87 pitches after a long 5th inning (you can tell by how many words it took!) and starts Ramirez with a fastball outside, then another heater way inside and out comes Yan Gomes for a quick chat. That 5th might’ve worn him down. Another fastball is rocketed down the third base line past a diving Chisenhall, and Ramirez trots into second for a leadoff double. Kazmir throws a beaut of a change-up past a swinging Colabello for strike one, then a fastball on the outside edge is smacked foul, 0-2. Good to see Kazmir back ahead in the count. The next pitch is a 94-MPH fastball on the inner third and Colabello smokes it to right but it’s right to Stubbs for a loud out. Not the best 0-2 pitch there, but an out. First pitch to Thomas is a fastball hit foul, then a hanging slider at 85 is hit to center, but caught by Bourn a few yards in front of the track, two outs with Ramirez moving to third. Not the sharpest stuff from Kazmir. But he gets a first-pitch fastball to Florimon, then pounds the outside corner at 94 to get it to 0-2, then works further out there and hits 95 but it’s a ball, good to see the velocity up. Kazmir works it a tad further in but still on that outer black, hits 95 on the gun, Florimon can’t keep up with it and swings late for Kazmir’s 8th K on the day and ends his Sunday with a solid line.
Final Line: 6 IP 99 Pitches (75 Strikes) 1 ER 7 Hits 1 Walk 8 K Gamescore: 61 Gamescore+: 68
Final Analysis: Great attacking stuff from Kazmir in a big return to form in Kazmir’s renaissance season. Just look at that ratio of strikes to balls. This game ended up one of the widest margins of of Gamecore to Gamescore+ as a lot of hits off Kazmir were light – especially considering the only run he gave up was on a bunt single that shouldn’t have scored Clete Thomas – with high Ks and only the one walk.
The biggest reason I called Kazmir a second-half guy to keep on your radar a few months back on the pod was the fastball velocity. And it surely didn’t disappoint yesterday afternoon. Consistently 93-95, Kazmir hit 95 close to 20 times and 96 a few occassions as well. For a guy who’s career looked done 5 years ago, he’s really found something this second half of the season, as FanGraphs has his average fastball velocity this season at 92.3 and he probably averaged about 94 this game. His secondary stuff is very intriguing looking at his pitch-type percentage on the season as well. He’s thrown his slider 14.1% of the time this year, but only threw 4-5 in this particular start. I think it has to do partly with the matchup and game plan, but also might have a little to do with the dead arm phase Kazmir went through earlier in the month. Sliders put a ton of torque on your arm, and he may not have that pitch as readily available as we’ve seen earlier this year. However, that doesn’t cause me too much concern as the change-up looked phenomenal in this game, usually at about 80-MPH giving a dramatic shift in speeds from the mid-90s fastball. It had Twins hitters off-balance all game. He also mixed in a handful of curveballs that he could spin in there for strikes.
Despite looking great with that great velocity, I’m still hesitant that Kazmir is a must-add right now. The Twins offense has been improving lately, but had no Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau on Sunday, so I’d like to see another solid start before trusting Kazmir again. Looking ahead at his projected schedule, it starts as bad as it gets with at Detroit, but following that it’s a slate of NYM, KC, @KC, HOU and @MIN. Doesn’t get too much better than that. But the whole dead/tired arm issue has me scared that all the sudden he’ll wake up not feeling 100% in that arm in one of those great matchups and not be able to keep the velocity up and get knocked around. I’ll be keeping an eye on his start at Detroit, and if he’s still in that 94-95 range and has a decent start, will probably be eying him as an add through a great September schedule.