Monday June 22nd, 2015

Scott Kazmir didn’t throw a curveball in the majors until 2013. By that time, he had suffered several serious arm injuries, and had made exactly one total start in the previous two seasons. When he spun off his first curveball, as a member of the Indians, he was trying to get his career back on track.

Two years later, Kazmir is once again a rotation fixture. This season, he is 4–4 with a 2.70 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.20 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings with the A’s. The curveball, however, did not become a regular pitch in his repertoire. He threw it just 2.8% of the time in 2013 and 5.4% of the time last year. Heading into his June 16 start against the Padres this year, he had thrown 19 curveballs in 12 outings. Then, suddenly, he threw 18 of them in what was eventually a no-decision.

The results on his curve were actually quite good. Ten of the 18 went for strikes, and only two of them were put in play. He used it as a first pitch, and was willing to go to it no matter if he was behind or ahead in the count. When you take a look at the pitch, it’s easy to see why it’s effective. Here it is as a first-pitch strike to Clint Barmes. The pitch gets a ton of horizontal and vertical movement, breaking over the outside corner for a strike. Barmes gives up on it immediately, and while he was likely taking right when he identified that it wasn’t a fastball, that doesn’t take away from the pitch’s impressive movement.

Here it is again, this time with a bit tighter of a break, as a called strike to Austin Hedges.

Kazmir still prefers his slider, but you can tell the difference between the pitches when you look at them next to each other. The slider, which he throws here to Matt Kemp, is a bit faster and breaks more horizontally than it does vertically.

Kazmir’s sudden love of his curveball started in his previous start, when he threw it eight times against the Rangers. That means that in 11 starts, he threw the curveball 11 times. In the two that followed, he threw it 26 times, and it’s impossible to argue with the results. He has allowed just one hit—a single—off his curveball this season. It has been a strike more than 40% of the time, and has been a real weapon against righties. Kazmir has thrown 45 total curves this season, 42 of which have come with a righty in the box. For his career, Kazmir has allowed a .249/.335/.416 slash to right-handed batters. This season, thanks in part to the curve, they’re hitting .215/.308/.335. You can on seeing more of the pitch from Kazmir when he faces righty-heavy lineups for the rest of the season.

Pitchers of the Week

Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals: 9 IP, 1 W, 10 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP

It's not often that a pitcher is named a Pitcher of the Week after making just one start, but that’s what happens when you come within one out of a perfect game. Scherzer nearly added his name to the perfect game rolls last Saturday, retiring the first 26 batters he faced in a win over the Pirates. After all that, he unfortunately hit Jose Tabata on the elbow with a 2–2 slider. He secured the no-hitter when he got Josh Harrison to fly out to left to end the game, but it still felt like a let down after it seemed nothing would stop him from being perfect.

Blame umpires, not Tabata for Scherzer's lost chance at perfection

​For those of you who would blame Tabata for not exactly making an effort to get out of the way of the pitch, I would like to make three points. First, he’s not supposed to help Scherzer get a perfect game. Second, it’s not as easy to avoid a cement-mixer slider of the plate inside as you think it is. Third, do you really expect Tabata to turn off the instinct to lean into the pitch and get on base because of the situation? I find zero fault with Tabata. Scherzer has now thrown consecutive complete-game shutouts, allowing a total of one hit with 26 strikeouts against one walk. He has a 1.76 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 123 strikeouts versus just 14 walks in 102 1/3 innings this year.

Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers: 16 IP, 2 W, 12 K, 1.69 ERA, 0.69 WHIP

Sanchez began the week with his best start of the season, notching a complete-game shutout against the Reds. He allowed just two hits while striking out seven in the game, earning his fifth win of the season. He wasn’t quite as good in his weekend outing against the Yankees, but picked up another win after surrendering three runs on seven hits in seven frames. Sanchez has given his fantasy owners a bit of a mixed bag this season, but he has been very good in his last three starts, winning them all and amassing a 1.14 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 23 2/3 innings. His next start is Friday against the surprisingly punchless White Sox, which rank 29th in the majors in runs and wOBA, and dead last in slugging percentage.

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: 8 IP, 14 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.25 WHIP

Waiver Wire: Chris Colabello, Brock Holt lead this week's top options

Like Scherzer, Sale made just one start last week, but it was so dominant that he edged Matt Harvey (0.66 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 13 2/3 innings) and Taijuan Walker (17 strikeouts, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP in 13 1/3 innings) for the final spot among the Pitchers of the Week. Sale was perfect through 5 2/3 against the Rangers, and ultimately allowed two hits across eight scoreless innings. He tied a season high with 14 strikeouts, and now has double-digit whiffs in six consecutive starts. That streak includes five straight games with at least 12 strikeouts, making him the third pitcher in MLB history to achieve the feat, alongside Randy Johnson (1998) and Pedro Martinez ('99). Of course, the White Sox found a way to blow the win. The offense scored just one run, and the normally infallible David Robertson gave up two runs in the top of the ninth. Sale sports a 2.74 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 119 strikeouts against 20 walks in 88 2/3 innings this season. Hopefully, the baseball world is treated to Sale vs. Scherzer in the All-Star Game.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Pitchers of the Weak

Alfredo Simon, Detroit Tigers: 2 2/3 IP, 2 K, 23.63 ERA, 4.13 WHIP

The Yankees roughed up Simon in his only start last week, tagging him for seven runs on eight hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings. They got to him for a single tally in the first, two more in the second, and then exploded for five runs in the third, the first four of which were credited to Simon. He has been mostly good this season, and is still the owner of a 3.29 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. When you don’t have an overpowering repertoire and allow a lot of balls in play, outings like this are bound to happen every now and again. He gets a much better matchup in his next trip to the mound on Thursday when he opposes the White Sox, a team he has held to four runs and 10 hits in 13 innings this season.

Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays: 2 1/3 IP, 1 SV, 2 K, 30.86 ERA, 3.86 WHIP

Pitcher Scouting: Zimmermann's low strikeout rate hurting his value

It’s rare for a closer to make either of these top two sections in the Pitching Report, but Cecil pitched so poorly last week, despite earning one save, that he has to be included. The Toronto closer made three appearances last week, and allowed at least two earned runs in all of them, and earned a loss twice. Even in the one game he managed to save, he entered with a three-run lead and allowed two runs on three hits. All told, he surrendered eight runs on six hits and three walks in just 2 1/3 innings. Cecil remains the closer in Toronto, but he has a 5.96 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 22 2/3 innings. This team has legitimate playoff aspirations, which would end the majors’ longest drought. The front office will almost certainly be active at the trade deadline in the hopes of bolstering the team’s bullpen. Don’t be surprised if Cecil is nothing more than a setup man by August 1.

Mike Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers: 5 IP, 2 K, 10.80 ERA, 2.20 WHIP

The Royals got to Fiers last Wednesday, racking up six runs on eight hits and three walks in five innings. They did it in typical Royals fashion, stringing together seven singles to BABIP Fiers to death. The Milwaukee starter had made seven straight outings allowing three or fewer runs, though one of those was cut short after he threw 91 pitches in muggy conditions in just 4 1/3 innings. Fiers is always a risky play because of his trouble with the longball, but his ability to miss bats makes him a fantasy asset in all formats. He should have better results in his next outing, which comes on Tuesday against the Mets.


Elaine Thompson/AP

Buy, sell or hold

Buy: Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners

Two more strong starts last week may have closed Walker’s buy window, which had essentially been open longer than the McDonald's drive-through window. However, he remains on the free agent list in a large number of shallower leagues, and likely could still be bought in more competitive leagues, even after the run he has put together in the last month. Everyone should believe in him at this point, and owners in deep leagues would be wise to at least check in with his owner to gauge trade interest. The Walker so many of us expected to see has arrived, and it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere now that he’s here. In his last five starts, Walker has allowed eight runs on 27 hits and three walks in 35 1/3 innings, good for a 2.04 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. In that same stretch, he has 38 strikeouts, including a season-high 11 in his last start against the Astros. Remember, this is a guy who was ranked no worse than 11th by any of the prospect-rating services heading into this season. Dating back to 2012, he has been a consensus top-20 prospect every year, and he still doesn’t turn 23 until August. If the Mariners could ever find consistent offense, it would be scary what they could do with Walker joining Felix Hernandez atop their rotation.

Sell: Jeff Samardzija, Chicago White Sox

Power Rankings: Cardinals remain in first place for fourth straight week

​Samardzija has put together a pair of useful outings in his last two trips to the mound, allowing a total of five runs and striking out exactly a batter per inning in 14 frames. Now is your chance to capitalize on his recent performance to extricate the long-haired contaminant from your roster. Samardzija was never going to be a good fit in U.S. Cellular Field, and the weather is just now heating up in Chicago. His numbers from his last start may look decent on their face, but he somehow surrendered just two runs despite allowing 10 hits. It was the third time in his last four outings he gave up at least 10 hits, which owes both to his pitching and the fact that he has one of the worst defenses in the league behind him. He’s still a name-brand pitcher, but he has provided largely generic performance this year. Find a pitching-needy owner in your league and get rid of Samardzija while you can.

Hold: Wei-yin Chen, Baltimore Orioles

Chen is on his way back to Baltimore after a smart, albeit hotly debated, move by the team to open up a roster spot for a week by sending him to High-A Frederick. The Orioles made a decision to skip Chen’s spot in the rotation in Toronto given that the Blue Jays absolutely crush left-handed pitching, and since they weren’t going to use Chen for about 10 days, they decided to send him to the minors to get another active player on the roster. The move made plenty of sense, but it sent his ownership rate tumbling as hasty owners cut him without looking deeper into the situation. If he’s available in your league, go get him now. If you were smart enough to hold onto him, rejoice at his return on Friday. He has a 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 71 strikeouts in 81 innings this season.

Prospect Watch

Luis Severino, New York Yankees

The Yankees secured Severino’s services back in 2012, thanks in large part to their ability to offer more to international players than many other teams can afford. Those deep pockets could very well pay dividends in the form of Severino, a 21-year-old flamethrower from the Dominican Republic.

Hit and Run: Lincecum running out of rope; J.D. Martinez powers up

​Severino began this season at Double-A Trenton, but quickly put to rest any notions that he needed much time at that level. He made eight starts with Trenton, amassing a 3.32 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 48 strikeouts against 10 walks in 38 innings. The Yankees bumped him up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre a little more than a month ago, and he has been even better at the top level of the minors. In five starts thus far, he has a 2.15 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 18 strikeouts. His last time out, in a win over Lehigh Valley (Phillies), he tossed 7 2/3 innings, allowing two unearned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out seven.

Severino features a 70-grade fastball on the 20-80 scale that tops out at 99 mph. It has a natural sink to it, resulting in a high ground-ball rate and very few home runs; He has surrendered just eight bombs in 288 2/3 career innings. His next best pitch is his changeup, and that makes him a nightmare for left-handed batters, even though they have the platoon advantage. He’s the top prospect in the Yankees’ system, and with the team right in the thick of the playoff race, they could bring him up in the second half if he continues to pitch well at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He’s not someone to stash yet in traditional fantasy leagues, but he’d be immediately relevant upon his promotion to the majors.

GIF of the Week

Taijuan Walker was just outside the Pitchers of the Week class, but he was good enough to earn the GIF of the Week. I’m guessing Carlos Correa didn’t see too many splitters like this down at Corpus Christi or Fresno this season.

Two-start pitchers

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Felix Hernandez
  3. Madison Bumgarner
  4. Zack Greinke
  5. Johnny Cueto
  6. Chris Archer
  7. David Price
  8. Jason Hammel
  9. Carlos Martinez
  10. Trevor Bauer
  11. Michael Pineda
  12. Ubaldo Jimenez
  13. Stephen Strasburg
  14. Jesse Chavez
  15. Hector Santiago
  16. Mike Fiers
  17. Jeff Samardzija
  18. Alex Wood
  19. Collin McHugh
  20. Drew Hutchison
  21. Chase Anderson
  22. Tsuyoshi Wada
  23. CC Sabathia
  24. Joe Kelly
  25. C.J. Wilson
  26. John Danks
  27. Jon Niese
  28. Jeff Locke
  29. Odrismaer Despaigne
  30. Jose Urena
  31. R.A. Dickey
  32. Brett Oberhotlzer
  33. Kyle Ryan
  34. Chi Chi Gonzalez
  35. Kevin Correia
  36. Tom Milone
  37. Matt Andriese
  38. Kyle Kendrick
  39. Joe Blanton

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