After watching Scott Kazmir’s last two starts since returning from the DL, I am fully endorsing Rick Peterson and whatever it is that AMSI did with Kazmir because he looks nothing like the mess of a pitcher the Rays put on the DL earlier this season. Truthfully, it was almost painful to watch Kazmir pitch before his stint on the disabled list as he piled up pitch counts in the early innings and fell behind a lot of hitters. When he went on the disabled list in late May, he was 4-4 and had a 7.69 ERA. What has changed since his return?
One thing that is noticeable in Kazmir’s starts now is his velocity is back. While it may not be back to the 94mph range he was at in 2007, he’s at least throwing in the low 90’s consistently in June and July. According to the Pitch f/X data on brooksbaseball.net, Kazmir’s average fastball velocity has been 91 mph for his last two starts. In his previous seven starts before his stint on the disabled list, he was only able to throw that hard in one of his seven starts. In the other six, his average velocity was 2-3 mph slower. When a pitcher shows that kind of velocity drop, it is a tell tale sign for injury or a mechanical issue. In Kazmir’s case, the latter was causing the former. Fortunately for Kazmir, the loss in velocity was not shoulder-related as it most often is.
Another key to Kazmir’s success has been changing up his mix of pitches in games. Prior to his injury, Kazmir had become terribly over-reliant on his fastball. He was using it as much as 61% of the time in some starts. If a pitcher is having velocity issues, overusing his four-seam fastball is not a good thing and his struggles in May should have come as no surprise. The table below shows the percentage of pitches he threw in his last six starts – notice the difference in the last two from the first four:
Kazmir has cut way back on the use of his four-seam fastball and as a result, his average velocity on that pitch is up and his last two starts have been two of the best he has made all season. Additionally, the increased use of his changeup has also been nice to see. As his teammate David Price is learning the hard way, a major league starting pitcher needs to show a good third pitch to keep hitters honest whether it be something off-speed or a breaking pitch. In the case of both Kazmir and Price, they were throwing fastballs and sliders almost exclusively and batters were just fouling off pitches until working a walk or getting a pitch they could drive. Kazmir’s use of the changeup in his last two starts have helped him keep batters off balance and 11 strikeouts and only 11 baserunners in 10 innings is a huge improvement over the Kazmir we saw in the first two months of the season.
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