Mets may have seen something when they traded Kazmir

Scott KazmirThe Mets come into Cleveland tonight for a three game series against the Indians beginning with an interesting pitching matchup to kick things off.  23-year-old Zach Wheeler of the Mets faces 29-year-old Scott Kazmir in a duel of present and former top pitching prospects.  Wheeler — called up in June — is showing fans the talent and promise that made him so highly touted.  In 14 starts this year, Wheeler is 7-3 with 107 strikeouts and a 3.36 ERA.  He is viewed as an integral piece in the rebuilding process of a consistent winner in New York, something Kazmir knows a little bit about.

It was nine years ago when the young left-hander was involved in one of the most infamous trades in Mets history.

On July 30, 2004, Kazmir and minor leaguer Joselo Diaz were traded to Tampa Bay for Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato.  Instantly, this trade became a subject of infuriation for fans and media for years to come.  Zambrano’s Mets career, of course, was short lived and unsuccessful. He was only able to start 35 games in two and half years for the Mets before elbow issues sidelined him and ultimately ended his pitching career. The key factor in the trade dispute was the puzzling inclusion of Kazmir. Why was he placed in the trade?  Why didn’t they get more of a return back?   Zambrano’s injury problems just added fuel to the already implanted rage and fans wanted answers.

The Mets’ front office — mainly general manager Jim Duquette — stated they were primed for a pennant chase and wanted to make moves that would immediately impact the team.  All of that rhetoric and nonsense can be rehashed and mocked — and most definitely should — because it was a terrible move. The Mets traded a top prospect without getting equal value, and the return they got was foreseeably mediocre with a bum elbow. Any casual fan could see this, so I cannot explain why the front office did not.  Now nine years later,  there are two underlying questions that at the time could not be answered.  Is Kazmir built for a long career? Will he become an ace?  We can safely no to both.

The Mets had a few concerns about the long-term productivity when projecting Kazmir.  They believed due to his stature, mechanics, and delivery that he would develop arm injuries. They also questioned his lack of control, which would elevate his pitch count and affect his ability to go deep in games.  Splitting time between Capital City and St. Lucie in 2003, Kazmir’s BB/9 was 3.6 and in 2004 with St. Lucie and Binghamton it was 3.7.  His K/9 in the same years was 11.9 and 9.3, respectively.   So without doing the math, you can see how pitches per start could add up without the relief of getting quick outs via contact.   In 179 career starts, Kazmir had only eight starts exceeding seven innings.  In respects to his stature, there is some logic that shouldn’t be ignored.  Kazmir is listed as 6’0, but as everyone around the game knows, height and width are relatively skewed in media guides for biased purposes. If you see him in person, it’s clearly obvious he is not six foot tall.  Couple that fact with his mechanics which have led to him having shoulder and elbow problems throughout his career, and it becomes hard to criticize people who might have foreseen these setbacks.

Kazmir started off his career great.  In a four season span from 2005 through 2008, he averaged 172.3 innings per season with a 3.51 ERA while averaging 10.8 SO/9.  Towards the end of 2008 he began to suffer elbow problems which kept him out of a few starts.   In 2009, after starting the year on the DL, a big drop off occurred as he pitched to a 4.89 ERA in 147.3 innings while averaging 7.1 SO/9.  In 2010, same thing; started season on DL with shoulder injury and then pitched to a 5.94 ERA in 150.3 innings while averaging 5.7 SO/9.   In 2011, his velocity went down considerably and despite trying to tinker with mechanics, was released during the season in the minors. Kazmir was 27 years old at time of his release.

As it’s not unusual for pitchers to have arm injuries, it is rarer for the drastic drop in velocity and production to occur without some kind of medical procedure like Tommy John surgery.  Kazmir’s decline seemed to come from his body and arm wearing down at a young age, much like another young talent with similar stature. For example, take Tim Lincecum’s career.  Many scouts saw the combination of his 5’11’’stature and “flawed” mechanics as a red flag before his career and for some during.  Those fears seemed silly after his first five years, in which Lincecum led the National League in strikeouts three straight years while winning two Cy Young awards. Last year and this year have now shown those original fears might have been justified.  After starting his career with a five year stretch with a combined ERA of 2.96 in 155 starts, Lincecum has pitched to an alarming 4.85 in 61 starts.  Linecum’s average fastball velocity has dropped from 94.7 mph in 2007, to 92.1 in 2010, to 90.9 in 2013.  Now 29, Lincecum is due to become a free agent at years end with his future in doubt.

I am in no way defending the Kazmir trade back in 2004, but rather shedding light on a perspective that many had within the organization at the time. Although his talent was heralded, his ceiling was viewed by many as limited; not to mention some veterans were reported as disliking him for personal reasons.  The past few years, organizations have placed an emphasis on premium pitching and installed a strict protocol on how it is handled.  Pitch counts, inning caps, and advanced statistics seem to be here to stay.  Now with all the sabermetrics and advanced scouting prevalent in baseball, it’s conceivable that maybe a simple figure like height is what got Kazmir traded.

16 comments for “Mets may have seen something when they traded Kazmir

  1. September 6, 2013 at 11:12 am

    But Kazmir did become an ace. He was the ace of a Rays staff that went from 67-95 in 2005 to 97-65 and the World Series in 2008. He was a 2-time All-Star. He led the league in strikeouts one year. He did all this making league minimum salaries in 3 of the 4 years, and a first year arbitration salary in the 4th. Net of his cost ($4.9M over 4 years), FanGraphs estimates he added $51.9M of surplus value to the Rays ML team from 2005-08 ($56.8M value – $4.9M cost). The Mets may have seen something when they traded him. But the Rays sure as heck saw something when they traded FOR him. They saw an opportunity to steal an elite young pitcher from a team blinded by a combination of hubris & panic. That Kazmir fell apart 5-6 years into his Major League career (still short of the time when the team would be under anything more than a one-year commitment at a below-market rate), does nothing to vindicate those in the organization who thought this was anything other than a terrible idea.

    • Sean Flattery
      September 6, 2013 at 11:25 am

      The trade was awful, and can never be vindicated. However, I don’t think any pitcher can be called an ace if he consistently fails to pitch deep into games. Kazmir starts, even at his best, required “all hands on deck” for the bullpen to get at least 12 outs per game.

      • AV
        September 6, 2013 at 12:48 pm

        I agree. While he was probably their #1 starter, it was mostly by default and he was eventually passed by James Shields and others.

        What bothered me more about the trade is it was widely reported other teams called the Mets after the trade was announced asking why they weren’t told Kazmir was available. It wasn’t that the Mets made a bad trade; they made a bad trade when a better one was likely to be available if they did their due diligence on what other teams were offering.

      • September 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm

        Kazmir averaged a shade under 6 innings per start from ’05-’08 (handing off roughly 9 outs to the BP), eclipsing the 200 innings mark in 2007. But if you want to say he wasn’t a “true ace” because relative to other “true aces” he didn’t go deep enough regularly, I suppose that’s fair. Still, he was one of the top 20 or so pitchers in baseball (17th by fWAR) over that 4-year span. During his cheap control years, he lived damn close to any pitching prospect’s ceiling. In my eyes, this was an indefensibly bad trade at the time that ultimately worked out about as poorly as it could have for the Mets.

  2. steevy
    September 6, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Bottom line is the Mets got essentially nothing for a guy who was a good,cheap,pitcher for 4 years.If they had gseen a flaw and,you know,gotten something useful in return,that would have been fine.

    • September 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      Absolutely. Then it would be, they saw some red flags with their primo pitching prospect, bet against him, and he proved them wrong by pitching at a very high level for a number of years and not breaking down nearly as quickly as they anticipated. But at least they were able to turn him into Joe ExpectedSizeableReturnForElitePitchingProspect.

  3. Lorinda was Better
    September 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Trading Kazmir was not the crime. Regardless of what the Mets saw or did not see in him- and that goes for Jeff Wilpon, Rick Peterson, Jim Duquette, and Al Goldis- you trade him, but for a much better haul than Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. Why tip your hand? The crime was in not maximizing the trade and settling for nothing.

  4. Joe Gomes
    September 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Yes, the Mets saw that it was better to trade a healthy young stud in order to get an over the hill and already hurting Victor Zambrano.

  5. kjs
    September 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Rumour was Kasmir smoked weed. That was never proven in fact as far as I know, but that allegedly really turned the organization off. Anyone else hear of this?

  6. Dan Stack
    September 7, 2013 at 3:22 am

    And he had his ultimate revenge tonight. He was great and made Mets’ hitter look foolish at the plate.

    • kjs
      September 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      Which was great. Kept pressure on the Yankees. Keep the Metsies in the hunt for the bottom 10. And he beat a AAA lineup…no real triumph or ‘revenge.’

  7. steevy
    September 7, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    I SO want the Yankees to finish in 4th place in the East.

  8. Jim OMalley
    September 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I never hears that there were veterans who didn’t like him….what is the scoop on that?

    • Lorinda was Better
      September 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      As the story went, Al Leiter was particularly pissed that Kazmir changes the mussic in the clubhouse in spring training. FranciFranco too and they complained to Jeff Wilpon.

      • NormE
        September 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm

        The rumored pipeline to little jeffy rears its head again. It wouldn’t surprise me about Leiter or Franco and especially not baby Wilpon.
        I guess my bias shows.

  9. Jim OMalley
    September 8, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Thats a couple of stories now that I have heard about Leiter….He seems to have been a big complainer.

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