Something that has flown under the radar for the Rays is the performance of Scott Kazmir. The team is winning despite Kazmir's tRA sitting at 3.99, the highest since 2005. Is there a reason for the young ace's regression, or is it simply a hiccup in his promising career?
Kazmir began this season on the disabled list with a left elbow strain. He was removed on May 4th and made his first start in Boston going four innings and allowing three earned runs along with three walks. Kazmir would go on a run over his next 11 starts pitching 68 innings, allowing 47 hits, 25 walks, 6 homeruns, and striking 70 outs while going 7-2 and earning a spot on the all-star team. In 10 starts since his relief appearance in the midsummer classic Kazmir has went 54 innings, allowed 47 hits, 27 walks, 8 homeruns, and struck out 65.
Most casual fans are going to see Kazmir's 10-6 record, 3.13 ERA, and 1.227 WHIP and assume Kazmir is having the best season of his career, and he is, for those statistics. However as we know those numbers don't tell the whole or even half of the story. Kazmir's strikeout per nine rates is down from 10.41 to 9.97 and his walk rate is up from 3.88 to 3.92. He's giving up more line drives and flyballs than ever and as a result more homeruns (one per nine).
To see if there was a noticeable change I went to the PitchF/x data. Kazmir is throwing his fastball at 92.68 (92.91 last year) about 77% of the time (69% last season) and throwing his slider and change less and slower (83 and 79 at about 11 and 12 percents respectively.) For actual break measurements, Kazmir's slider is breaking in to righties slightly more but not breaking down quite as much, making it more of a cutter and less of a slider, which could help to explain his increase in foul percentage. Kazmir's change is also breaking inside (to lefties) less but breaking down quite a bit more 4.1 this year compared to 5.75 last season.
Kazmir is throwing the same amount of strikes as he did in prior seasons, and more first pitch strikes, yet his average pitch total per plate appearance is up to 4.3 some bit higher than 4.06 last season. Kazmir is getting a few more strikes swinging and less strikes looking. Hitters are swinging at 50% of Kazmir's pitches and 78% of his strikes (both increases by 2% over last season) and making contact 74% of the time, which is again slightly up from last season. Last season post-all star break Kazmir had an amazing run and average nearly 15 swinging strikes and seven groundballs over his last 15 starts. Post all-star break this season Kazmir is averaging 12 swinging strikes and five groundballs.
It's probably not time to worry because Kazmir is still a good pitcher, but adjustments will need to be made if the Pitchf/x data is indeed correct. Kazmir has to bring his pitches per plate appearance down in order to become more efficient, in nearly 2,300 pitches Kazmir has gotten through 126.3 innings, Roy Halladay worked through 159.3 innings on roughly the same amount.