The Oakland Athletics employed eight different All-Stars in 2014, but on New Years Day 2015 only two of them remain on the roster. The next player on our list is one of those remaining stars: No. 26, Scott Kazmir.
Name: Scott Kazmir, aka Kaz
Position: LHP, starting
Stats: 32 starts, 3.55 ERA (105 ERA+), 190⅓ innings, 164 Ks, 50 BB, 16 HR, 3.35 FIP
WAR: 1.7 bWAR, 3.3 fWAR
How he got here: Signed as free agent prior to 2014
2014 Salary: $7 million
2015 Status: Under contract
2015 Salary: $13 million
Kazmir entered the year as something of a question mark. He'd been an All-Star starter in a previous life, but injuries and ineffectiveness had forced him out of the league by age 28. He'd surprised the world by returning in 2013 and throwing 158 strong innings for the Indians, but no one knew what to expect out of him in 2014 at age 30. Would he build on that initial success, or would it prove to be a mirage? Would he even stay healthy enough to contribute? The A's signed him as a free agent to a two-year contract and gambled on his upside, hoping that his comeback was real. There's no question they got their money's worth in the first year of the deal, and yet Kazmir managed to retain the cloud of uncertainty that enveloped him last winter.
The campaign began well for Kazmir. He tossed a quality start his first five times out, and he had a 2.11 ERA in April while the team won each of his first six outings. He finally lost a game in May, but then he went through the rest of the first half with only two more major hiccups -- one start in which he was ejected after just four outs, and one in which the Mets torched him for seven runs in three innings. By the time the All-Star break rolled around in mid-July, Kazmir had a 2.38 ERA with four strikeouts for every walk and 14 quality starts in 19 tries.
That first-half performance earned Kazmir a spot on the All-Star team, for the third time in his career and the first time since 2008. He made an appearance in the the game, entering in the sixth inning to protect a 5-3 lead. He got to pitch to teammate Derek Norris, with Brandon Moss playing left and Yoenis Cespedes in right, so he had some familiar faces around him. He struck out Giancarlo Stanton to lead off, but then allowed a double to Aramis Ramirez before retiring Dee Gordon. With two outs, he gave way to Koji Uehara, who stranded Ramirez at third.
Then, as happened to so many A's players last year, the magic wore off in the second half of the season. Kazmir stayed strong in his first two starts after the break, but when August began he quickly wore down. He was bad in four out of six outings in that month; he recorded only 16 strikeouts against 12 walks and finished with back-to-back stinkers against the Angels in which he combined to allow 13 runs in only 4⅓ innings. He was a bit better in September, with three good games and only two disasters, but overall he had a 6.05 ERA in his final 11 starts, with six of those 11 performances being of particularly poor quality.
After such a dominant showing through the first four months, Kazmir fell just far enough to reintroduce many of the questions that had surrounded him last winter. Was his success for real? Did he simply wear down a bit in the final months as he stretched his arm back out from 158 innings in 2013 to 190⅓ in '14? Or was it all a mirage, with the bad times showing that he's no longer a consistently reliable performer? Is he a No. 2 with endurance concerns, a solid No. 3 with boom-or-bust potential on each given day, or a No. 4 with upside?
All told, Kazmir had a productive year and the gamble Billy Beane took by signing him paid off. His successes were more sustained and more substantial than his struggles, and overall his numbers graded out as above-average. His results-based bWAR suggests he was merely a solid starter, while his process-based fWAR believes he was even better than that and was worth more than three wins; either way, he helped the team and easily earned his salary. Most importantly, he stayed healthy, as he made 32 starts and never missed his turn in the rotation. He had a brief bout of triceps tightness in April, but it never amounted to anything and his body cooperated in the long run.
With good health, an above-average performance, and an unexpected All-Star berth, Kazmir's year was a resounding success no matter how you slice it. The A's have him under contract for one more season, and by some combination of his sketchy history, his second-half collapse, and their need to field a 25-man team in 2015, Billy Beane has so far chosen not to cash in on this particular star during his offseason youth movement. Perhaps Beane has held on to him simply because there is no way to know if he'd be selling high on Kaz's fleeting All-Star status, or selling low on a weak second-half that masked the coming-back-out party of one of the top starters in the AL. As things stand right now, it's impossible to tell which of those valuations is closer to the truth and which Kazmir will show up in 2015.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B+ ... He was paid to be a league-average starter, so I hoped for that. He turned out to be a notch better. The 105 ERA+ and the strong FIP get him into B territory, and the All-Star berth adds enough of a flourish to earn him the plus. He would have easily gotten an A if he'd kept up his first-half form all year, or even if he'd kept his ERA below 3.00.
2014 season grade, overall: B ... A 105 ERA+ and 2-3 WAR sounds like a solidly above-average pitcher, a No. 2 or No. 3 in a rotation.
Kazmir's season debut came against his old Indians teammates, and he dominated them with 7⅓ shutout innings to lead the A's to their first win of the year. He struck out five and didn't walk a batter.
On May 17, Kazmir was once again starting against Cleveland. He was getting squeezed by home plate umpire Jerry Layne, and his frustration with the strike zone got him into trouble in the second inning. After uncharacteristically issuing his third walk of the day, Kazmir did ... something that Layne objected to, and Layne tossed him from the game.
This one is tough to explain -- Kaz didn't make any significant gestures, and it didn't look or sound like he said a whole lot out loud. There may have been some history between the two men, or maybe Layne just got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, but the ejection seemed unwarranted. It should take a lot to boot a starting pitcher in the second inning and doom his team's bullpen to an unexpectedly long day, and I don't think Kazmir came close to reaching that threshold. I think Layne blew it on this one, but the good news is that the A's won the game anyway and Kazmir went on to throw quality starts in his next six outings. No harm done.
On May 28, Kaz turned in his best performance of the season against Anibal Sanchez and the Detroit Tigers. He held them to one run on six hits, with Torii Hunter's home run the only mark on his record and eight strikeouts to his credit. He sat down after nine innings looking at a 1-0 deficit, but Sanchez and closer Joe Nathan ran out of gas at the end and Josh Donaldson drilled a walk-off three-run homer to grab victory from the jaws of defeat and give Kaz a well-deserved win. It was his highest Game Score of the season (79) and his only complete game.
His next time out, on June 3, he got a strike zone he liked against the Yankees and fanned a season-high 10 batters.
He dominated the Giants in July, spinning seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts.
OK, bear with me on this one. This is a video of Kazmir giving up a home run ... BUT the man hitting it is new Athletic Marcus Semien, and the dinger was the only blemish in an eight-inning, one-run masterpiece in September. On this particular day, only one guy could figure out Kaz, and that guy now plays for Oakland.
Although Kazmir faded down the stretch, he reached deep in his final start of the season and delivered a much-needed win right as the A's needed every victory they could get to maintain their thin grasp on the Wild Card.
This might be the best video ever. Former manager and current buffoon Bob Geren, now the Mets' bench coach, was serving as New York's first base coach for the day while the normal guy, Tom Goodwin, was away on a personal matter. The clip starts with Geren being introduced by Glen & Ray with two outs in the first inning, and before they can even finish their sentence the runner at first gets picked off by Kazmir. You had one job, Bob. I guess someone has to be the worst at everything. Never change, big guy.
Kazmir had three great months, two good ones, and one awful one. Which one is the real Kaz, or is he simply an inconsistent blend of the three? It's looking more and more like the A's will pay to find out in 2015. The upside is another All-Star season and a qualifying offer that leads to draft pick compensation, so it's a gamble worth taking. As The Clash meant to say, Rock the Kazmir.