May 3, 2007: The (then) Devil Rays sat two games under .500 at 13-15. Fans were cautiously optimistic, but the team was on its way to another dismal finish, a full 30 games out of first place.
Just one year later, the Rays were two games over .500, 16-14, and champing at the bit to get their ace back. They had improved over their previous season by four games and done so without strikeout artist Scott Kazmir.
Kazmir wasn't his 2007 self, striking out 70 fewer hitters in 50 fewer innings, but dropped his WHIP and still won 12 games, leading the Rays into the promised land of the postseason.
This season has been a different story altogether for Scott Kazmir and by extension for his fantasy owners.
His record of 4-3 isn't terrible, but his WHIP has bloated to 1.92, and his ERA is an ugly 7.15 heading into tonight's game against the A's.
From a purely baseball perspective, I'm less worried about Kaz. He's still got a decent fastball and enough support pitches to get hitters out. It won't always be pretty, but if he can win six or seven more games, he'll be effective enough to lead the rotation.
David Price is likely to get saddled with the mantle of ace anyway when he gets called up, and Kazmir is certainly capable of locking down the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
From a fantasy perspective, I'm much more suspicious of Kaz.
At this point, to get a sense of his value, vacate all thoughts of when he was picked and what he's done in the past.
His fastball has dropped two mph, as has his slider, but his change, paradoxically, has sped up. Fundamentally, he's become a lot more hittable.
This is why his WHIP and SLGA have gone through the roof and why his K/9 has dropped from consistently over 10 to an average 6.3.
Other than picking up a win every now and then, Kazmir just doesn't have much value. His ERA is higher than that of Jason Marquis, his WHIP is the worst in baseball, and his 35 strikeouts put him tied for 51st in the majors.
At this point, trading Kaz isn't going to net you much. Call this the David Ortiz problem; getting perceived value and actual value to line up such that a deal can be made is extremely difficult when the player in question came into the season with such high expectations.
The best advice at this point to wait on Kazmir. While his pitches aren't as sharp as in the past, he also has been unlucky.
His BABIP is .347, nearly 100 points above average. His LD percentage is down and his GB percentage is up, yet opponents are slugging .494 against him. This is not because of an increase in home run rate, but rather a general increase in hits (a full four hits worse per game).
He is giving up a fair number of XBH generally, if not home runs, which is worrisome, but the increase is a survivable one.
Do not trade for Kazmir if you need immediate pitching help; his issues, despite his own assertions, do not appear to be quickly fixed. However, if you've got a spare bench spot, chances are good he could be gotten for a song, given that Kazmir owners (of which I am one) are likely looking to get rid of the headaches he causes.
It may take until the All-Star break for him to get his head right, and he may not recover the velocity he lost, but Scott Kazmir's WHIP and ERA belie what is really going on when he pitches. The investment is a risky one, but one that could really pay off when you need it the most: the stretch run.
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