Scott Kazmir and the Blue Jays: BBB Staff Free Agent Picks

When it's all said and done it's unlikely Kazmir will be remembered as a Cleveland Indian. / Photo credit: Hannah Foslien

Bluebird Banter writers were asked who they would pick if they could choose one free agent for the Blue Jays to sign. First up is Nick's choice.

Being the general manager of a major league baseball team is an incredibly difficult job. This is something that is very well known and publicly acknowledged, but I don't think that it's something that's widely internalized. A lot of armchair GM work goes on behind the scenes by serious fans everywhere, especially with the amount of data that is now available to the public through sources like Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. The Bluebird Banter writing team decided to give in to the temptation of putting some GM hats on and each member of the staff chose a free agent target that they think the Blue Jays absolutely, positively should sign. The only budgetary restraint was that the cost of this player had to be "within reason". In other words everyone knows that the Jays would improve if they signed Robinson Cano, but it is so unlikely it's really not worth thinking about, let alone writing about. To lead off the mini-series I humbly present to you my personal free agent favorite: SP Scott Kazmir.

Scott Kazmir is a name that is surely familiar to Blue Jays fans from his time terrorizing the AL East for the then Devil Rays. When I refer to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the assumption is that we are talking about a pretty old player, but in fact Kazmir turns 30 in January so he is far from over the hill. He may not be old, but he is quite the enigma which could allow him to be had at a bargain price. In fact, Dave Cameron recently put him as one of his top free agent bargains over at Fangraphs. I have no way of proving this claim but I was thinking about writing this post before I saw that, you'll just have to trust me.

In order to understand where we are with Scott Kazmir we need to do a brief rundown of his history. This is largely review so I'll do it in super speed. Scott Kazmir was drafted by the New York Mets in 2002 in the 1st round, 15th overall. He was traded midway through the 2004 season to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Victor Zambrano making the Mets look like a complete and utter joke. Between 2005 and 2008 Kazmir would post an ERA between 3.24 and 3.77 and a K/9 between 8.42 and 10.41 ever year becoming one of the most dominant starters in the American League. During the 2008 season the Rays and Kazmir agreed on a four-year contract extension worth $28.5 million. The next year everything fell apart for Kazmir both health and effectiveness wise and he was shipped away in an August deal to the Angels for a package that centered around Sean Rodriguez. I'm not going to go into details about his miserable stay with the Angels as I've already used the term "super speed" very liberally. Basically he lost his health and his fastball and was cut loose in 2011. Things got so bad for Kazmir that by the summer of 2012 he was pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League where he posted a 3-6 record and 5.36 ERA. The saga got interesting when he surfaced in the Puerto Rican pro league late in the year along with reports that his velocity had returned. That led to a minor league contract offer from the Cleveland Indians with an invitation to spring training and Kazmir opened the year as Cleveland's fifth starter. Here's what Kazmir then did in 2013:

IP

Wins

Losses

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

xFIP

158

10

9

9.23

2.68

1.08

.324

4.04

3.51

3.36

Fangraphs valued this performance at 2.5 WAR. There are a couple of things here that point to the possibility that Kazmir will be undervalued as a free agent. Firstly, his most basic statistics are unimpressive. 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA isn't jumping out at anybody. His BABIP is inflated (his career average is .303) meaning that his ERA is pretty likely to come closer to his FIP next year. His xFIP is absolutely exceptional, but it would be unfair to expect his ERA to head towards that territory if he signed with Toronto because one would expect a high HR/FB rate pitching in the Rogers Centre. Simply put, Kazmir strikes out a lot of guys, he doesn't walk that many and a little more luck in balls in play makes him a pretty appealing pitcher.

Things get more interesting when we examine his first half/second half splits:

Timeframe

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

xFIP

First Half

86

8.37

3.14

1.47

.305

4.60

4.42

3.84

Second Half

72

10.25

2.13

0.63

.349

3.38

2.42

2.79

Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to pay for second half production based on the assumption that a player has turned some kind of corner. Usually a full season's numbers gives a better sense of what a player has to offer than a half season. There is reason to believe that Kazmir might be an exception to that rule. For one, he was returning from some time away from Major League Baseball so it stands to reason that he might be slightly rusty and take some time to come around. That is purely speculation on my part but it sounds about right. That being said, I'm not a big fan of pure speculation. The real reason that Kazmir's second half numbers are so seductive is that they are attached to a tangible and quantifiable change. Specifically, a change in velocity.

Velocity has always been a hot button issue for Kazmir as the hard throwing lefty lost it completely for a time during his tenure with the Angels. Velocity isn't everything but it's more than Pat Tabler would have you believe and the correlation between Kazmir's brilliant second half and his rising velocity is undeniable. Here's a graphical look at Kazmir's fastball velocity in 2013 from Brooks Baseball:

And for those of you who prefer the simple table:

Month Fourseam
4/13 92.15
5/13 92.75
6/13 93.41
7/13 93.72
8/13 94.01
9/13 94.23

These pictures are very much in line with the narrative of a pitcher shaking off the rust. By the end of the season those velocity numbers are some of the best among major league starters. Second half Kazmir was essentially the southpaw flamethrower of his past days. It's fairly miraculous, but it happened. Even better is the fact that another inflated BABIP number (.349) disguises just how dominant he was.

Kazmir, of course, is not without his blemishes. He has a long injury history and even early in his career he was never a workhorse. A healthy season for Kazmir is about 150-180 innings as he tends not go deep into starts. During his years in Tampa Bay he never averaged much more than six innings per start. With Kazmir you are paying for quality not quantity.

Speaking of payment, the last thing to do when examining the idea of signing Scott Kazmir is to work out the approximate price. The chart below shows where a couple of major sources have Scott Kazmir ranked as a free agent and their best guesses on what he'll cost:

Source

Rank

Years

Total Cost

AAV

CBS.com (Jon Heyman)

34

2

$15 million

$7.5 million

Rotoworld.com

25

N/A

N/A

$10 million

Fangraphs Crowdsourcing

N/A

2

$17 million

$8.5 million

SI.com

43

N/A

N/A

N/A

Mlbtraderumors.com

16

2

$16 million

$8 million

Average of all sources

29.5

2

$16

$8.5 million

The averaging here doesn't really work out (just wanted it to be clear to people that I'm aware a 2 year $16 million dollar contract does not have an $8.5 AAV) but this is just to give a vague idea of what the market for Kazmir might be. Personally, I would be perfectly comfortable handing Kazmir a 2 year $16 million dollar contract. Although he is not going to provide you 400 innings during that time he is likely to provide you with value on that deal. Consider that such a deal would be just over half the price of Josh Johnson on a qualifying offer on a per year basis. I would probably try and get some kind of option attached to the deal to allow the possibility for three years of team control.

My opening offer: 2 years $ 18.5 million dollar offer with a vesting option at $11.5 million if Kazmir pitches 250 innings between 2014-2015 and is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2015 season. $5 million dollar team option if he doesn't meet these criteria with a $1 million buyout.

I'm not sure that offer would get it done, but it would get a dialogue going. I would probably go higher, but don't tell Scott Kazmir's agent I said that.

Scott Kazmir is something of a gamble and this fan base may be a little bit tired of gambling. However, he is a smart gamble, and unless something changes with Rogers this team needs to looks for relative bargains as opposed to paying top dollar for the most sought after guys. In addition to avoiding the big money long term contract, signing a guy like Kazmir will not cost the Blue Jays a draft pick. That's just icing on the cake to make Scott Kazmir my pick of the 2014 free agent crop.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Bluebird Banter

You must be a member of Bluebird Banter to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bluebird Banter. You should read them.

Join Bluebird Banter

You must be a member of Bluebird Banter to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Bluebird Banter. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker