This is going to be one of the most pressing issues heading into the post-season, off-season, and next season. Scott Kazmir's season has taken a turn for the worst lately. His FIP is 4.37, the highest of his career, his xFIP is 4.23, second highest of his career, and his tRA is the worst of his promising career as well. After his last start he was called overrated by some who wanted to "deal him for whatever" this off-season. Frankly that's a bit silly. Kazmir has shown his ability in the past to be amongst the top pitchers in the league, so what gives?
Is he hurt? I don't know, he could be. Look at how well the Rays kept B.J. Upton's labrum tear out of the news. It is entirely possible that his elbow is still tender and throwing his slider puts torque on his elbow and causes pain. I don't want to speculate too much because honestly it does us no good. Okay, he's hurt, what does that mean? Well it means he should not be pitching, for one, but we don't really know the specifics of what it would affect because it varies on each injury.
Instead what about mechanics, no, not biomechanics, instead something simple, like release point? Perhaps Kazmir has not been consistent with it. I checked Josh Kalk's player card for 2007 and the present and amazingly, Kazmir's release points have actually gotten more consistent in their horizontal release. The images will explain it better than I can, but essentially he looks to be releasing the ball earlier and the thing I noticed right away, higher.
Well, so what? My theory would be his fastballs are being elevated more than he intends. That would seemingly explain the increased amount of fly balls and homeruns. I ran the fastballs from his last start and three of the four homeruns were "high" and over the middle of the plate. I would say that most homeruns come off high fastballs. This isn't revolutionary and nor should it be. However my question is whether he's intending to throw the ball higher or not.
I guess that just raises another question and answers nothing. The problem of elevating his pitches doesn't explain why they were aimed straight down the middle, unless Kazmir is uncomfortable in his release point, or unless he simply can't command the ball within the strike zone anymore. Kazmir's slider is breaking less than it did last year as well, is that due to "losing the grip", injury, or simply his higher release point causing the pitch to break differently?
Another question, if it is the release point and Kazmir has worse control of his fastball, why is he insistent on throwing it more? Last season Kazmir threw his fastball on 0-2 counts 58.73% of the time, this season that's up to 72.82%. On 1-2 last season he was under 50%, this season almost 70%.
This really is a sticky situation. Is everything we've been chalking up as dead arm or injured arm simply his new release point causing dysfunction? Is this new release point designed to save his arm? At least it seems to be far more repeatable than his old one. If it is the release point why haven't Jim Hickey, Joe Maddon, or Brian Anderson noticed it and tweaked it? If it is an injury why in the hell is he still pitching?
There are a ton of questions to be answered heading into Kazmir's final few start(s please) although unfortunately we may not know for sure whether rest or tweaks were needed until next spring, if then. All I know is if the Rays need more of last season's Kazmir and less of this season's heading forward.
Please note that I'm not attributing his struggles to anything yet because correlation does not equal causation and I don't want anyone jumping to conclusions. Instead I'm simply noting observations.