Though Scott Kazmir potentially gives the Dodgers an all-lefty starting rotation, the newest Dodger isn’t your usual southpaw.
Over the past two seasons, right-handed batters have a .643 OPS against Kazmir. That’s the seventh-best figure in baseball for lefties, just ahead of Madison Bumgarner. (Clayton Kershaw, not surprisingly, is No. 1, while Alex Wood and Brett Anderson are in the top 15.)
“Kaz is a guy who’s got a very balanced split,” Dodger general manager Farhan Zaidi said in a conference call with reporters today, shortly after the Dodgers announced the acquisition of the soon-to-be 32-year-old. “His best pitch is his changeup, which really neutralizes righties. He’s not a lefty in the conventional sense.”
Hey @ClaytonKersh22 the entire rotation is going to use your glove as a sign of solidarity.
— Brett Anderson (@BAnderson3737) December 30, 2015
And while asserting that the Dodgers weren’t necessarily done pursuing starting pitching, Zaidi downplayed the concern over having five left-handers, indicating that it was more important to have a balanced bullpen that could respond to opponents’ moves. Zaidi said that the Dodgers are expecting improvement from some of their younger relievers in 2016, but could also be looking to add veterans to the pen.
Kazmir has history with both Zaidi in Oakland and Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay.
“He was really a fastball-breaking guy in the Tampa days,” Zaidi said. “In Oakland, he really evolved into a fastball-changeup guy. His changeup is one of the best in baseball. I think when pitchers have that type of athleticism, that ability to adapt as pitchers … those guys tend to be more successful.”
That ability could also benefit Kazmir as he becomes a National Leaguer for the first time, more than 11 years after his MLB debut.
“There is a bit more to the game in the NL in terms of guys having to hit and run bases (and fielding), but one thing about Scott is he’s a very good athlete, so I think he’ll have aptitude in all those aspects,” said Zaidi, who also mentioned the obvious benefit of facing pitchers instead of designated hitters on a regular basis.
Zaidi acknowledged that after the 2016 season, Kazmir can opt out of his contract — a clause that isn’t new but seems increasingly prevalent of late. It’s a negotiating tool to help close a deal, but one in this case that dovetails nicely with the expected ascendancy of the Dodgers’ top minor-league pitching. In addition, the Dodgers would have the potential of getting draft-pick compensation if Kazmir signs elsewhere.
None of that affects the Dodgers’ hopes in the coming year for Kazmir, who last signed a multiyear deal in 2013, one year after he had nearly been out of the Majors for good.
“When we signed him to that two-year deal in Oakland, people viewed that as a bit of a risk, and he made us look very smart,” Zaidi said. “I actually view it as a positive when a guy has been through those down times and come out the other side.”
What a great day to officially be a Dodger! Happy birthday to my lefty idol Sandy Koufax!
— Scott Kazmir (@scottkazmir19) December 30, 2015
Dodgers may be the first to field an all-LHer rotation if things stay intact. That said, none of these LHers has more than a career 750 OPS against RHers – Kershaw (576), Ryu (644), Anderson (693), Wood (717), Kazmir (744). Even in Kazmir’s case things are different,recently. As Zaidi said, the changeup has led to Kazmir neutralizing RHed hitters (645 and 641 OPS v. RHers these last two seasons.) Clearly the FO is banking on these kind of numbers to hold up,as they are defying all sorts of conventional wisdom with this type rotation. Wood and to a lesser degree Anderson are at some risk of slippage, though, as both of them got hit harder by RHers this year, particularly Wood.
I like the fact that he has a good change up but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a rotation that’s all left handed, but I guess they know what they’re doing.