Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Kazmir Conundrum

Rewind to July 30, 2004. The Devil Rays traded for a stud young pitcher, Scott Kazmir, in the worst trade in MLB history.

Fast forward to opening day 2006. Scott Kazmir became the youngest opening day starter since Dwight Gooden. Kazmir was an allstar.

Fast forward to 2007. In this season, Scott Kazmir would lead the American League in strikeouts.

Fast forward to early 2008. Kazmir strained his elbow during spring training and missed the first month of the season. In his first 7 starts, he tore it up. His ERA after these 7 starts was 1.40 and he had 44 strikeouts. In this time, the Rays signed Kazmir to a contract extension with $28.5million guaranteed and a potential for $39.5million. These games got Kazmir another bid to the all-star game.

Fast forward to June 17, 2008. The plane has started its nose dive. Kazmir gave up 3 hits and 1 run, striking out 7. Those numbers seem quality. However, these took place in 4.2 innings in which Kazmir threw 110 pitches and walked 4. This is the day that Scott Kazmir lost his command. This is the day Scott Kazmir lost his confidence. Since June 17, 2008, Kazmir has only lasted longer than 6 innings three times, and has made it a full 7 innings just once.

Fast forward to the present. The plane has crashed into a mountain. Kazmir now has an ERA of 7.69. He is only striking out 6.97 batters in every 9 innings. His fastball has dropped from topping off at 95 to about 92. His normal fastball is hitting the catcher under 90, and way too often is out of the strike zone. Kazmir has given up at least 6 earned runs in 5 out of his 9 starts. For a number 5 pitcher, this is unacceptable. Kazmir is the Rays’ number 2.

The Rays have left themselves with a conundrum.

What should the Rays do with Scott Kazmir? Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon are in a very tough position due to the contract extension signed last season. Can a small market team afford to pay a player $9million to come out of the bullpen or pitch in AAA? Then again, can this team afford to march a pitcher with a double digit ERA this month to the mound every 5 days? Can the team even afford to keep an ineffective pitcher at this point?

In my mind, here are the Rays’ alternatives for Kazmir and their potential results:

a) Do nothing, keep sending Kazmir to the mound every 5 days, and pray that he finds his game. They could hire a sports psychologist, hope that he has one good start and finds his confidence, or that he just finds the strike zone. This is a high risk/high reward play. If Kazmir finds his game here, the Rays will be very happy. If he keeps pitching the way he has been, there will be a lot of losses coming.

b) Put Kazmir in the bullpen. Since Kazmir cannot seem to last more than just a few innings, maybe putting Kazmir in the pen will allow him to throw harder for a shorter period of time. He could be a decent weapon out of the pen, but lately he has struggled to get starting, and
he is making way too much money for the Rays to make him a mid-reliever.

c) Trade Kazmir. I am being 100% honest when I say that over the offseason, I said the Rays might be smart to trade Kazmir. I could see more problems coming, and it seemed as though
his value would never be higher. The Rays have him under their control for potentially 3 more seasons, but at this high of a salary, he is not giving the Rays a good bang for their buck. Now, his value won’t be as high as it was in the past. However, teams should still be somewhat interested in a lefty with solid potential.

d) Send Kazmir to the minors. This is another high risk/high reward option. Other stud pitchers have been sent to the minors in recent years, including Dontrelle Willis, Barry Zito, and Brett Myers. All 3 of these pitchers found their confidence and were able to continue a career in the majors. Kazmir does have 2 options remaining, but would have to approve being sent down. If he does go to the minors, being able to dominate again would really do wonders for his confidence. If this is chosen by the Rays' management, I really hope that Kazmir realizes why and accepts the assignment.

e) Put Kazmir on the “Designated-rest List,” also known as the DL for healthy players. This seems like a viable option. This would give Kazmir a week or 2 of rest, allow the Rays to test a minor league pitcher such as David Price or Wade Davis in the big league rotation, and give Kazmir a few minor league “rehab” starts. If Kazmir is having arm problems, rest may be exactly what he needs.

Which option is best? I honestly like option d. Right now, Kazmir is too ineffective to continue starting every day, and he is too much of an asset to put in the bullpen or trade. Although there may be an arm problem, to me it seems as if there is a much bigger mental issue. If Kazmir would accept a trip to AAA for however long it takes to find his game, it may be most beneficial for not just his career, but also for the team. The Rays’ front office always talks about planning for later in the season and future seasons. The reason David Price isn’t currently pitching for the big league club is because they would “rather win in September than in April.” Can’t they use the same excuse for sending Kazmir down? When Kazmir gets to AAA and starts finding the strike zone again, he will once again believe in himself. That confidence will carry over to the big leagues again, and Kazmir will once again live up to his potential. Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman really have a conundrum on their hands. What should they do with Scott Kazmir? What would YOU do with Scott Kazmir? I know how I would, but then again, handling a pitcher really isn’t rocket science.


DirtbagFan said...

Its all in his head... ask Charles Barkley

DirtbagFan said...

conundrum solved... 15 day DL it is