2016 Fantasy Baseball: Scott Kazmir Signs with the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers decision to sign left handed pitcher Scott Kazmir had a slight stench of desperation to it. As a die-hard Met fan who once saw the once-prized pitching prospect dealt for the likes of Victor Zambrano, I’d like to state right off the bat that I have no qualms with Kazmir’s game. He was clearly the top starter left on the free agent market and profiles well as number-two pitcher for the vast majority of rotations across the league. My issue with the signing mostly stems from all the strange little details that come with it.
Editor’s Note: Also read our take on LA’s signing of Kenta Maeda.
Kazmir debuted with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in 2004 as a 20 year-old as a hard throwing lefty with great stuff. He made two All-Star teams, led the league with 239 Ks in ‘05, and made it to the World Series during his tenure with Tampa; however, he was a bit wild and led the majors in walks one of those years as well. Kazmir suffered numerous injuries following his peak with the Rays and declined to the point that he found himself completely out of baseball by 2012. He was able to re-establish himself in 2013 with the Cleveland Indians by completely recreating himself as a player and pitching a lot more to contact. Kazmir realized he no longer had that same power arm as when he first came up, so he worked hard to fine tune his mechanics and finally became a pitcher as opposed to just a thrower.
Kazmir has posted a 3.54 ERA with a 2.6 BB/9 and about a 43% ground ball rate since returning to the big leagues, and was 7-11 last season with a 3.10 ERA between his time in Oakland and Houston. He’s a good, if not great, big league pitcher, but he was not LA’s first, second, or even third choice in a free agent offseason signing.
The Dodgers main goal for the upcoming 2016 season was to bring back Cy Young runner up, Zack Grienke, but the club lost out in that sweepstakes to the inter-division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. LA then tried to acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Reds via trade until a story broke linking the shutdown closer to a domestic violence incident back in late-October. The team also had a deal lined up with free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, but trying to restructure that deal following Iwakuma’s physical allowed the Seattle Mariners the opportunity to swoop back in and re-sign him.
In a big-time market like Los Angeles, and with the ridiculously high payroll the Dodgers have, there is an incredible amount pressure on the organization to spend, compete, and win every single year. They’ve won the National League West the last three years but have yet to see any of those playoff runs end in even a Pennant. After losing out on Greinke, Chapman, Iwakuma and some others, LA had to do something. Anything. The Dodgers added Scott Kazmir with their backs against the wall, signing the 31 year-old to a three-year, $84MM dollar contract, and the way the deal is deferred is just the first oddity of this move. Kazmir will get a $5MM signing bonus, $3MM for the first year, $8MM for the next five years (though he will only play for the Dodgers the next three), and he has an opt-out option after the first year.
Aside from the weird pay-breakdown, Los Angeles has created a potential starting staff of all LHPs (Editor’s note: this article was submitted prior to LA’s signing of the left-handed Kenta Maeda). No team in the modern era has had five lefties make at least 20 starts in a season, and only three teams ever have had five lefties make at least 15 starts. It’s certainly an odd way to structure a pitching rotation, but the saving grace for LA is that Kazmir’s splits are actually reversed as he is more effective against right-handed hitters than left-handed ones (opponents have a career .744 OPS against Kazmir from the left side and .656 from the right). The club also expects to get Brandon McCarthy, a RHP, back at some point this season from TJ Surgery, and they have a couple pitching prospects waiting in the wings as well. For now though, LA will have to hope that this lefty rotation will work, and that Kazmir can at least somewhat fill the shoes of the departed Greinke.
As far as fantasy goes, Kazmir is still very solid. He’s not that prototypical strikeout pitcher he used to be, but he still averaged more than 7.6 K/9 in 2015. Kazmir is also moving to a pitcher-friendly home ballpark and will be pitching in the National League for the first time in his career. Though I tend to think people put too much stock in that aspect, it still must be comforting for an aging pitcher to know they are dealing with shorter lineups day in and day out. Kazmir should be a good fit for both the Dodgers and your fantasy team, but it is worth monitoring when he starts to tire during the season. He seemed to deal with a bit of fatigue last two seasons, and he saw his ERA balloon from 2.43 in the first half to 4.60 in the second half with a particularly rough September last year at 6.52.