Midnight Player of the Week (April 7 -13): Scott Kazmir, Oakland SP

This week:
 Mon. 4/7 @ Minnesota – 6.0 IP, 28 TBF, 6 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 5 K, Win
 Sun. 4/13 @ Seattle – 6.0 IP, 20 TBF, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K, No Decision (Oakland won 3-0)

Kazmir got the win on an unremarkable performance against a Twins ballclub that likes to work the count and tax the opposing pitcher. The Twins happened to do exactly that against Kazmir but the A’s offense is looking formidable again, and Kazmir worked himself out of trouble, so he banks a win, keeping the A’s in the thick of what promises to be a four-team division race.

By Sunday, the A’s and Mariners would be facing each other for first place, with Texas and Los Angeles not far behind. Kazmir, sporting the wispiest mutton chops there ever were, silenced the home crowd and made the Mariners offense look like its old self. Brad Miller and Robinson Cano strung two singles together and that was it. Miller had made it to third with two outs but Smoak would go down right after in one of Kazmir’s nine strikeouts on the day. Despite all the pitches it takes to get nine strikeouts, Kazmir left with only 82 pitches thrown in six innings. It was a steady, workmanlike display of pitching as timing. Yes, one of Kazmir’s fastball touched 97 mph in the first inning, but the real pitch of consequence was his 80 mph changeup. According to Brooks Baseball, Kazmir threw 22 changeups on the day, over a quarter of his total pitches, and the second most of any pitch after the fastball (29). Eight changeups were taken for balls, one was hit into play for an out, four were fouled off and nine were swung on and missed. So his changeup begat whiffs more than anything else, in fact as many whiffs as resulted from all his other pitches combined.

All starters, if they intend to be of service to major league teams, must possess at least one offspeed pitch that flummoxes hitters the way Kazmir’s changeup bested the Mariners. Kazmir has a slider just as good as that changeup. Last year Kazmir’s opponents hit for the same slugging percentage on the slider and the changeup, .388, a good low figure; as for batting average, the slider actually had better results than the change, .235 to .255, and more strikeouts in the same number of at-bats. (Look, it’s all here in the tables at Brooks Baseball.)

And if those two pitches weren’t enough his arm is livelier than it was at this point last year. You can see here on this velocity chart that he has not dipped below 90 mph on his fastball in any of his starts this season. In his first three starts last season, he dipped below 90 twice. Pitchers gain velocity as the season wears; if Kazmir started ahead of where he did last year, we can expect him to have a rather potent repertoire by August.

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