WARNING: METS FANS MIGHT WANT TO TURN AWAY
A five-year anniversary was "celebrated" recently by Mets fans. No, it wasn't the mid-point of their last losing season, when they went 71-91 in 2004 under the tutelage of the famously cranky Art Howe. No, it wasn't that something named Eric Valent managed to squeeze in 300 plate appearances for the Metropolitans that year. And, no, it wasn't the professional debut of David Wright.
If you're a Mets fan, you know precisely where I'm headed. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you obviously haven't been in the same room with a group of Mets fans during one of their patented late-game blowups. There's more bloodshed than a Kill Bill flick. There's so much blame to go around that you'd think Omar Minaya actually introduces himself as, "Hi, I'm Omar F'ing Minaya."
See, in times of crisis, Mets fans inevitably turn to Scott Kazmir's trade to the then-Devil Rays in 2004 for the remains of Victor Zambrano (a no-name prospect from each team was also in the swap). This, it seems, was the beginning of the end for the Mets in whatever this decade is supposed to be called. (How about the [Mel] Otts?) Kazmir went on to post four straight double-digit win seasons from 2005-08, along with a 3.51 ERA, a 9.7 K/9 rate, a Rookie of the Year award and two All-Star selections. Zambrano sported a 5.50 ERA for the rest of his career, which effectively ended in 2007. When Mets fans are subjected to another pathetic showing by their beloveds, distant memories of Kazmir as a Mets prospect make those tears trickle down the face at a rate quicker than his greatest four-seamer fastball.
Although times have been tough for Mets fans this year -- try that for the understatement of the 2009 MLB campaign -- Kazmir's struggles have perhaps removed a few Met worshippers from the ledge. Where his problems began and if and when they might end are the concerns of Rays fans, who need the 25-year-old lefty to regain his footing as one of the game's elite southpaws in order for Tampa Bay to taste the postseason once again. It's my job to Deconstruct, and dammit, that's what I'm going to do:
All statistics through Aug. 3.
2009 stats: 6-6, 6.10 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 67 K's in 87 IP
Let's start with the basics: Kazmir blew up in his half his outings to begin the year. The lefty surrendered six-plus earned runs five times in his first nine starts, including four occurrences in a five-start period from April 29 through May 20.
Before his May 20 start, Kazmir cited an unidentified mechanical issue as the reason for his woes and claimed to have figured it out. The subsequent seven earned runs he allowed, to the Oakland A's no less, begged the question of whether mechanical or injury issues were hampering Kazmir. Two days after the start, he was placed on the 15-day DL with a left quadriceps strain. "You feel it when you're landing," Kazmir said at the time in a May 22 article on SI.com.
His pitch type stats on FanGraphs.com show that the 61.8 percent rate at which he uses his fastball is at a career low. Traveling at a career-low average of 90 miles per hour, Kazmir's fastball has lost at least a couple miles per hour.
It was even worse leading up to the DL placement. In six of seven starts through May 20, Kazmir's four-seam fastball clocked at under 90 miles per hour on average, including in his last four starts, according to BrooksBaseball.com. And for his first start in his return? Try 91 on average.
His four-seamer velocity hasn't wavered since. His primary pitch has averaged above 90 in his six subsequent starts, and he's topped out as high as 95 in his July 18 and 23 starts, something he hadn't previously done in '09.
But the golden stat hasn't been revealed. This is the statistic that should drive fantasy owners, in waves, to trade for Kazmir. This is what could lead Kazmir to regaining his ace-like form and making owners wish they thought more long-term in regards to their roster moves.
In seven starts through his May 20 matchup, only once did Kazmir throw his four-seamer for a strike over 60 percent of the time (61.5 percent on May 4). His percentage ranged from 48.9 to 59.2 the other six times, usually settling into the 55-56 percent range. That obviously indicates a hurler struggling with his command to the degree that an injury or major mechanical flaw could be the only explanation.
After recuperating the left quad, Kaz's four-seamer strike percentage hasn't dipped beneath 64 percent in seven starts. That's more than two percent better than his highest percentage in seven starts leading up to his DL placement. Even though his K/9 rate has remained nearly unchanged -- 6.8 in the seven starts before his DL placement, 7.0 in his seven starts thereafter -- the fact Kaz is locating his main pitch should better set up his other pitches. That, theoretically, should lead to more quality outings and more wins. That strike percentage has risen in to the low 70s four times since June 27, including in his last three starts.
Alas, his four-seamer percentage isn't the only stat which has been important to his struggles and recent comeback, but it's surely been the shiniest piece of evidence.
Kazmir's 4.3 BB/9 rate is a tad higher than last year's 4.1 mark and his '07 figure of 3.9, but it's nothing that would lend itself to being an outlier stat. On that note, the .325 BABIP hitters have sported against him is right in line with the .323 and .341 numbers he produced in '07 and '08, respectively.
In many ways, Kazmir's ability to throw his four-seamer for strikes more consistently has been a key to his turnaround. Hitters have been kept in check, evidenced by the one homer the southpaw has permitted over 25 innings in his last four starts.
His recovery from a left quad injury has likely enabled the hurler to finish his pitches with more confidence by knowing he could safely land on his planting leg. And that's what it's about at this point in the season for owners: landing safely, hopefully on both your legs. (Sympathies to any of you if you play in some strange league where legs are chopped for owners not playing up to expectations.)
The Rays need Kazmir to finish the season on a positive note if they wish to defend their American League pennant. Kazmir owners could certainly use his skills to help them win their head-to-head or roto league. It seems now the only group of fans who are destined to languish in hell -- or at least act as though that's where they and their favorite team are headed -- are Mets fans. Heck, if Kazmir turns his season around and continues his star-laden career, imagine how Mets fans will feel on the 10th anniversary of the trade that never should have been made.
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Mets fans, bring it on. You want to feel sorry for yourselves? Want to tell me where I can stick this article? If you have any . If you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to send me an e-mail at email@example.com.