Adjustments Help Kazmir Find Success

Tomorrow night Scott Kazmir (5-4) will face off against the Minnesota Twins Mike Pelfrey (4-7). Coming off a win and a fine performance against Kansas City on July 13, Kazmir will look to continue his hot streak and keep the winning going for the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir is no longer the fire-balling strikeout king he was six years ago. He was a pitcher in exile; his career was on the brink. He signed with the Indians with nothing but question marks, but he has fought through it all to win his spot in the Indians rotation.

Kazmir has been inconsistent through his first 11 starts of the season. In five of those starts he’s given up two earned runs of less; in six of those starts he’s given up four earned runs or more. Over his last five starts however, he has really pitched consistently well. He gave up only one run in seven innings against Minnesota on June 21; he gave up no earned runs on one hit in seven innings on June 26 against the Orioles. He gave up three runs against Kansas City on July 3 not walking a single batter. He pitched into the sixth inning giving up just two runs and striking out five against Detroit on July 8, and he gave up two runs with six strikeouts in a win against Kansas City on July 13. This represents his best five game stretch of the season, and he dropped his ERA over a full run in those five starts from 5.89 to 4.60.

Adding a new pitch to his arsenal has been a big help to Kazmir. He didn’t start throwing a cut fastball until his eighth start of the season, and even then it was only 5% of his pitches or less. Over his last five starts he’s been throwing it 10% of the time, and he threw it 13% of the time in his last start against Kansas City. Cut fastballs are a great weapon to use against hitters that bat from the opposite side of the plate. There is the natural advantage of the lefty on lefty matchup, but adding the cutter tips the scales in the pitchers favor when a left handed pitcher faces a right handed batter. The ball looks like a four-seam fastball, but breaks in hard on the right handed hitter, jamming him. In his last start against Kansas City, Kazmir threw his cutter more than ever. He was able to get right handed batters to ground out 62.5% of the time, a rate that is about 15% above league average. 300 game winner Tom Glavine loved to use his cutter against righty’s, especially with two strikes; it was his go-to pitch in that situation.

One odd thing about Kazmir’s last five starts is his percentage of pitches in the strike zone. Through his first 11 starts of the season, he was throwing on average 44% of his pitches in the strike zone, in his last five starts that number has dropped to 38% with a season low of 26.9% against Kansas City on July 13. He is not striking out any more batters than usual, he’s actually slightly below his career average in that category, but he is inducing more ground balls than ever before. The last time Kazmir had ground ball rates of 40% was from 2005-2007 in Tampa Bay, the best seasons of his career. This season his ground ball rate is 42%. Hitters are actually chasing those pitches outside the zone and digging them into the dirt.

Against the Twins this season, Kazmir is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts. He has struck out 14 and walked only one in 13 innings pitched. He has not pitched in Minnesota yet this season, facing them both times at home where he has a 5-0 record with a 3.98 ERA.

Kazmir is not the ace he once was, he may never be that, but he has pitched well in his return from exile. As a back of the rotation guy, Kazmir can hold it down and get the job done. His value is slightly increase by being the only lefty in the Tribe rotation. Don’t expect him to go out there every day and give you seven innings of one run ball, but he can get the Indians six and keep them in the game. That’s all you can ask for from a guy that has been spending his days in the independent leagues and Puerto Rico.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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