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Young Guns: Kazmir and Cabrera (and Chacin?)

Every year, certain players make a quantum leap and post numbers that are drastically superior to their previously established career norms. Many factors exist that may explain such an improvement in performance. In the case of pitchers, they might be the beneficiaries of their team's exceptional defence. Other times, players simply improve, and they are able to sustain that level of play throughout their peak years. I'd like to take a look at two pitchers in particular, Scott Kazmir and Daniel Cabrera, to see if any indicators exist among their 2005 stats that might signal the likelihood of future success on their part.

Scott Kazmir: in 2005, he led the American League in walks allowed (100). In addition, 31.6% of the balls put in play against him resulted in hits, which was higher than the league average. So how did only post a 3.77 ERA, you ask? Well, he struck out many, many batters. In 186 IP, he struck out 174 batters, which led to the third highest K/9 ratio among AL pitchers (minimum of 162 innings pitched). In addition, he was very good at preventing home runs, as he only allowed 12 all season. Taking into account his age (21) and the fact that his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) should regress, Kazmir projects to not only sustain his 2005 performance, but to improve upon it.

Daniel Cabrera: he was very erratic in 2005. In only 161.3 IP, he allowed 87 walks (3rd in the AL), hit 11 batters (9th in the AL), and threw 9 wild pitches (9th in the AL). Had he pitched more innings, he would've been much higher on those lists. Despite all that, however, there is a lot of reason for optimism. For one, his "stuff" is exceptional - his fastball is consistently clocked in the high-90's and his curveball is considered to be above average. Additionally, he struck out almost a hitter per inning, and when he was on, he was practically unhittable. In fact, he dominated right-handed hitters, as they only managed to hit .257/.221/.478 against him. And no, skeptical readers, that is not a typo - right-handed hitters transformed into the second coming of Cristian Guzman when they faced him. If Leo Mazzone can help Cabrera harness his control and reform his approach toward left-handed hitters, he could develop into an exceptional pitcher.

What about Toronto's own Gustavo Chacin? The 25-year-old lefty had a great rookie season in 2005, but will he be able to sustain that level of play in the future? To be honest, I'm somewhat skeptical. For someone who allows many hitters to reach base (1.39 WHIP) he doesn't strikeout enough hitters to mitigate the potential damage (121 K in 203 IP). In fact, of all AL pitchers with a minimum of 162 IP last season, Chacin ranked 35th in WHIP. The only pitcher who ranked lower while also posting an ERA below 4.18 was Scott Kazmir. Among that group of pitchers, Kazmir looks like the only one who doesn't belong; his strikeout rate is superior and he allowed much fewer home runs. As a result, his likelihood of improvement seems much more plausible than Chacin's. That is not to say that a slight regression on the part of Chacin would render him useless, however. If he could pitch 200 league-average innings for the Blue Jays next season, he'd be a very suitable end-of-the-rotation starter.