I don't remember an off-season filled with so much action before the Winter Meetings. What will people even do there? Sleep, eat and try to stay one step ahead of MLB Daily Dish's Chris Cotillo, I presume.
Fake Teams hasn't missed a beat, recently covering the Twins additions of free-agent starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, and the Nationals Twitter-exploding robbery of Doug Fister from the Tigers late Monday night.
Yes, that really did happen.
So now that I've buried the lead, today we focus on another free-agent starter, Scott Kazmir, who agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal with the Athletics on Monday, first reported by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The top-15 pick in the 2002 amateur draft inked a minor league deal with the Indians last winter, and it ended up being one of the better off-season bargains. And, really, it didn't cost a thing ($1 million). Kazmir made 29 starts with Cleveland, going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 162 strikeouts in 158 innings. He finished the season with the best walk rate of his career and his best strikeout rate since 2008; in addition, his 3.36 xFIP was 20th best among pitchers with 150 innings or more.
Kazmir's comeback landed him big money, and as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron opines, Oakland is betting on his talent over health. It's a good gamble, as Kazmir's talent, however hit-and-miss, is undeniable. In his post, Cameron also points out how the pitcher improved in the second half, which likely went a long way in securing more money (my take, not Cameron's). The southpaw's velocity returned to pre-Tommy John levels, as Kazmir dialed it up to 92.5 mph (up from 86.5 in 2011 and 90.5 in 2010). This, from Cameron:
And he actually got better as the season wore on. In the first half of the season, he allowed a .344 wOBA and posted a 3.84 xFIP, but in the second half of the year, he allowed just a .298 wOBA and posted a fantastic 2.79 xFIP. That second half xFIP was fifth best in baseball, behind only guys like Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Burnett, and Stephen Strasburg. Rather than breaking down again under his first significant workload in three years, Kazmir got stronger the more he pitched.
That is, obviously, a very impressive group of hurlers, and it shows how valuable Kazmir was in the second half when fantasy owners were chasing down championships. I recommended the 29-year-old again and again in my weekly two-start pitcher column (probably every week he made two starts), but a switch to the spacious O.co Coliseum will make him an even more attractive starter in 2014. According to ESPN Park Factors, Oakland's home park decreased run production by 11 percent and home-run production by 18 percent. A pitcher with past home-run issues like Kazmir will benefit greatly.
Kazmir's improved second half included a 5.6-percent walk rate, which was, again, top-20 in baseball over that time. Continuing to limit the number of free passes is critical for Kazmir, who was at his worst with runners in scoring position. There's also a scary .274/.339/.455 slash line against right-handers that he'll need to improve on; lefties hit just .225/.251/.321.
Working in Kazmir's favor is a .324 BABIP, which was nearly 20 points higher than his career average. With a BABIP returning to the norm, we can see him improve even further on his 2013 numbers. I'm expecting an sub-3.75 ERA from Kazmir in 2014, with 175 strikeouts (to factor in possible missed time). He'll be completely usable in all home games, and I'm confident he becomes much more than that as the season wears on.
With strikeout upside of better than nine Ks per nine, a top-30 season -- as crazy as it sounds -- is not out of the question. After Sonny Gray, he's the pitcher you want to own in Oakland. I just hope the hype doesn't outweigh the cost.
For more on Oakland's signing of Kazmir, check out Athletics Nation, SB Nation's community for everything Athletics.
- MLB Rumors: Could Shin-Soo Choo be the next move for the Tigers?
- Fantasy Top 5 for 2014: Cincinnati Reds
- Tigers Trade Doug Fister
- Twins waste no time, sign free-agent starters' Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes
- Starting Pitcher Draft Strategy: Strikeouts per 100 Pitches
- B(old) and the Beautiful
- Fantasy Top 5 for 2014: St. Louis Cardinals