I may or may not have ripped Scott Kazmir a new a-hole on Twitter yesterday (SPOILER ALERT: I did rip him a new one). But my protestations were not accepted by everyone. Apparently there is still a contingent out there that still has Kazmir’s back. They plead and plead with me but I did not break. That was yesterday, and this is a new day, a day in which I am feeling a little generous. As such, I am going to give that vocal minority a chance and I will take a big ol’ swig of the Kazmir Kool-Aid to see if I can be convinced that the embattled pitcher can still find redemption.
This Kool-Aid tastes like FAIL.
Kazmir Kool-Aid Flavor #1: Not So Fastball Nectar (He will eventually adjust to his reduced velocity)
OK, fair enough. There is no doubt that Scott’s velocity is nowhere near where it used to be and that is not something a pitcher gets used to overnight. In his heyday, Kaz could just reach back and pump a heater by a guy, but now when he reaches back, there is nothing back there to be had. What scares me about this is that his velocity continues to drop. In his prime, his heater averaged around 92 MPH, but last season it was down to 90.5 MPH, an appreciable difference. A pitcher can survive at that velocity, but Scott isn’t that lucky because this season his velocity is even lower. We only have a one start sample, but Kaz was between 85 and 88 MPH during his abbreviated appearance against the Royals. The more zip he loses on his heater, the harder a time he is going to have in figure out a new pitching style. I do believe that in good time Kaz can pull a Jamie Moyer and find new life as a soft-tossing lefty, but the reason I can’t stomach this particular glass of Kool-Aid is that until Kazmir hits rock bottom on his velocity, he can’t make the necessary adjustments, and I just don’t think that is going to happen for him this year.
Kazmir Kool-Aid Flavor #2: Patience Punch (We just need to be more patient and give him more time)
I’ll begrudgingly gulp this glass down. Time is the only asset that can help Kazmir at this point and as mind-bogglingly frustrating as he is, the Angels have little choice but to give him more time, just don’t expect it to be a lot of time. Nobody thinks it is a good idea for Kazmir to work out his issues in the majors, but what other choices to the Angels have? Matt Palmer may be better than Kazmir, but not by very much and he certainly doesn’t have any upside. Trevor Bell is an option as well, but his own injury issues probably have him a few weeks away from being ready to be promoted. Nor should the Halos haphazardly cut Kazmir loose until they know the full extent of Joel Pineiro’s shoulder problems. I don’t like and the Angels don’t like, but another start or two (or even three) from Kazmir seems unavoidable at this point. And who knows? Maybe something will actually click for him in that time.
Kazmir Kool-Aid Flavor #3: Yum, Yum He’s Still Young (27 years old is too young to declare his career over)
Because Kazmir jumped to the majors at such a young age, it is easy to forget that he is only just now entering what should be his prime. That is what makes his current situation so heart-breaking. I give Kazmir a lot of crap, but I really do feel for the guy. There is no doubt in my mind that injury has ravaged his pitching arm to the point that he will NEVER recover his old form, but at age 27, that can be a hard truth for the guy to accept. That is probably why he still tries to pitch like he can throw in the mid-nineties. Just look at his career pitch type trend. In 2010, he was still throwing his fastball over two-thirds of the time, just like he did during his All-Star days. What Kazmir needs to do is completely change his approach. First and foremost, he has to stop featuring his now below average fastball and start mixing things up with his off-speed stuff. That includes throwing his slider, even if he doesn’t trust it. I know it doesn’t have the same bite as it used to, but that just means he needs to use it differently, meaning not saving it to be his out-pitch. Heck, it might even behoove Kazmir to start developing a fourth pitch so his repertoire has more variety. Either way, Kaz needs to get his fastball usage down to around 50%. Maybe his secondary pitches aren’t good enough to justify that right now, but one has to think that a radical change in his attack plan can get hitters off-balance a little bit, thus buying Kazmir a few weeks worth of decent starts.
Kazmir Kool-Aid Flavor #4: Lower Expectations Elixir (Quit trying to act like he can be an ace again)
The reason Kazmir has yet to alter his approach despite having a vastly weakened arsenal is that, as I alluded to before, he can’t accept the fact that he is no longer “ace” material. Maybe he does realize it, but he isn’t acting like it and the lack of adjustments proves that. What Scott needs to do is lower his expectations and set his sights not on becoming Scott “Cy Young Contender” Kazmir but rather Scott ” Solid Middle-of-the-Rotation Starter” Kazmir (SIDE NOTE: Fans would be wise to accept that scenario as well). What does that really mean? Much like Kazmir needs to shake up his mix of pitches, he needs to turnaround his end goal for each batter. In his ace days, Kaz was working to strike out as many batters as possible, a major reason he always has had issues with high pitch counts. What he needs to do is take a page out Joel Pineiro’s book. Like Kazmir, Joel was more of a strikeout pitcher when he broke into the league (though not nearly on par with young Kazmir). But, like Kazmir, Pineiro had his career path interrupted by injuries. Joel floundered for years before he was finally shown the light (and a sinker) by Dave Duncan. Pineiro learned that he just couldn’t put hitters away like he used to, so he focused instead on pitching to contact and pounding the strike zone. Obviously Kazmir doesn’t have a sinker or pinpoint command to rely on, but he would still be wise to follow Pineiro’s lead. So I say Kazmir needs to give up on going for the K, which leads to him nibbling at the corners trying to get batters to chase bad pitches, and flip the script by aggressively attacking batters to get them to at least put the ball in play and earn their way on base, rather than walking. That approach won’t earn him any All-Star selections, but it could make him the next Randy Wolf. Maybe that is damning him with feint praise, but Wolf, though lackluster, has had a long career and Kazmir’s career is going to be over before he turns 30 if he doesn’t start making drastic adjustments immediately.
So how is all this Kool-Aid tasting? I have to say, I don’t really like it, but I at least see now how Kazmir can work his way back into being not terrible. What I don’t see is how he is going to be able to do it in time to salvage the 2011 campaign. In all reality, what Scott needs is a trip to the minors, with the Angels or some other team, where he can work on reinventing himself without inflicting irreparable damage to his parent ballclub. I’ve said all along that Kazmir has all the makings of a Dave Duncan reclamation project, or maybe some other pitching coach since Mike Butcher clearly can’t get through to him. No matter how you slice it, it is clear that Kazmir’s days in an Angel uniform or numbered and that number isn’t a large one.