According to ESPN's Buster Olney, free agent Scott Kazmir is expected to audition in front of scouts in Houston today. Kazmir, still just 28, was once a fireballing lefty whose very name made Mets fans all twitchy. He struck out well over a batter per inning and posted a 114 ERA+ in six seasons with the Tampa Bay (then Devil) Rays following an infamous July 2004 trade that netted the Amazin's Victor Zambrano.
But Kazmir was swapped to the Angels late in 2009 and promptly fell apart, managing a 77 ERA+ in 188 innings with L.A. before the club gave him the boot last June. Never a picture of perfect health (he missed time with shoulder, elbow and quadriceps injuries while with Tampa), Kazmir was sidelined by hamstring, shoulder and back problems with the Halos.
All of those injuries seemed to take a serious toll on Kazmir's stuff. His fastball averaged 91.8 mph in 2008, 90.7 mph in 2009, 90.5 mph in 2010 and a Moyer-esque 86 mph in his one abbreviated MLB start last season. Without the heat, Kazmir's strikeout percentage nosedived: 26% of batters faced in 2008, 18.1% in 2009 and 13.6% in 2010. He didn't whiff a single one of the 14 hitters he faced in 2011.
When he still had some zip in 2008, Kazmir was able to make hitters miss in the upper portion of the strike zone. Check out his opponent contact rate by pitch location in 2008, and then the league average:
Hitters missed 28% of Kazmir's pitches thrown high in the strike zone in 2008, the third-highest rate among starting pitchers that year. Starting in 2009, however, a diminished Kazmir could no longer throw the ball by batters:
Kazmir's miss rate on high pitches fell to slightly under 22%. And that extra contact on high pitches was hard: hitters slugged just .279 versus Kazmir's high pitches in 2008, but .415 from 2009-11 (the league average for starters over that time frame was about .400).
Kazmir was worked fairly hard at a young age by contemporary standards (537.1 innings from age 21-23, eighth-highest among that age group over the past decade), and it just seemed as though his 6-foot, 195 pound frame couldn't take the pounding required to be a workhorse starter. Perhaps with a year to heal his body, Kazmir can show some of the zip that made him a top young pitcher in Tampa. As an extreme fly ball pitcher with decidedly un-Moyer-like control, he has no other option.