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"Not So Fast..." On Yanking Kazmir From The Rotation

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Thearon W. Henderson

These past two weeks I've been seeing more and more comparisons between Scott Kazmir and 2004 Mark Mulder. Who can forget Mulder's slow train wreck of a collapse, culminating with the controversial decision to let him make his final start, in the heat of a tight pennant race, instead of the rookie Joe Blanton?

No doubt Kazmir has scuffled in August and September. With a 7.80 ERA in 30 August innings, Kazmir has a 5.25 ERA so far in September. However, I think there are signs that this is far from a Mulderesque situation.

For one thing, down the stretch in 2004 Mulder was flat out injured. Not tired, as Kazmir could be after throwing the most innings he has hurled since 2007, but truly falling apart physically and trying to pitch through it. As a result, Mulder was not striking out the side -- as Kazmir did in one overpowering inning his last start -- nor was he putting up "poor numbers" as Kazmir has often done lately. Mulder was flat out getting lit up:

Mulder's 4th to last start of 2004: 6 IP, 11 hits, 8 runs (8 ER)
Mulder's 3rd to last start of 2004: 4 IP, 8 hits, 9 runs (5 ER)
Mulder's 2nd to last start of 2004: 3⅔ IP, 6 hits, 4 runs (3 ER)
Mulder's fateful last start of 2004: 2 IP, 6 hits, 4 runs (4 ER)

As for Kazmir, he hasn't been good but he has also had some dominant innings, a couple dominant starts. Though he is often sitting at 89MPH with his fastball, he is also able to dial it up to 93MPH at times and he has had a pretty sharp and crisp slider. These are not the signs of a pitcher who is "done".

Really, the pitch that has gotten him into trouble is his changeup. Let me give you my eyeball assessment of what is going wrong. It looks to me as if Kazmir is often "overthrowing" his changeup. That is, he is trying too hard to pull the string, which is actually a liability with the changeup. What you want to do, ironically, is to "throw it hard," meaning you throw it with a fastball arm action relying on the grip to produce the change in velocity.

If you slow the arm action down, or if you "try to throw the pitch slow" (which often looks like "aiming the ball"), you lose deception along with location and the ball just kind of floats up to the plate easier to discern and easier to hit squarely. This is something that could be addressed in a side session, not by yanking him from the rotation and replacing him with someone whose track record is far shakier or less known (Hammel, Pomeranz).

I would absolutely pitch Kazmir on Friday at Texas. For one thing, it offers one more start of data to figure out how good a choice he would be for a possible ALDS start. And while the 1st/2nd wild card may still be much at issue, with home field at stake, it is possible that by Friday there will be enough separation between Oakland and Seattle that a playoff spot itself would not be at stake. Even if not, I don't see Hammel or Pomeranz as being a clear "best choice" over Kazmir when Kazmir is all of one start removed from a truly brilliant effort against the White Sox.

Essentially, the stuff is still there but for a few too many hanging changeups, the velocity is still there even if mostly in his back pocket, and this is far from a 2004 Mulder situation. And it's important to remember how mediocre Hammel has been throughout his career and how inexperienced Pomeranz is. It's not like you're choosing between Kazmir and James Shields here.

I still think Kazmir has a couple good starts left in him and I haven't seen enough to say that he isn't one of the A's best bets if they get into the post-season. Frankly, I think the very best argument against Kazmir in an ALDS is his horrific track record against the Angels (career 2-5, 7.56 ERA in 33 IPs, this year 4⅓ IP, 12 hits, 13 ER) -- but I don't know how much stock to put in that as it encompasses such a tiny sample.

So yeah I'd start Kazmir on Friday without hesitation, and unless he looks really bad yet again I would be inclined to slot him in for an ALDS start -- if the A's can get there.