LOS ANGELES -- The last time Scott Kazmir pitched for a southern California team, things didn't go so well. But the Dodgers are confident, with three strong seasons on his resume since the left-hander's return to prominence, that Kazmir will find success this time through.
The Dodgers signed Kazmir to a three-year, $48 million contract on Wednesday, a deal that general manager Farhan Zaidi said came together in the last few weeks.
Kazmir was a two-time All-Star in Tampa Bay with the Rays under general manager Andrew Friedman, now the Dodgers president of baseball operations. Kazmir led the American League with 239 strikeouts in 2007 at age 23, and during his parts of six seasons in Tampa Bay struck out 24.2 percent of his batters faced while averaging over a strikeout per inning.
Traded to the Angels midseason in 2009, Kazmir began a three-year battle with shoulder and hamstring issues. When he wasn't on the disabled list in 2010, the left-hander put up a 5.94 ERA in 28 starts and 150 innings. His 67 ERA+ is tied for third-worst among pitchers with 150 innings in a season in the last 10 years, but in the bottom four there is a bit of a comeback theme. The worst ERA+ was by future World Series champ Edinson Volquez, and Kazmir was tied with John Lackey, who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013 and who put up two solid seasons since.
In 2011, Kazmir in Triple-A was torched to the tune of 30 runs on 22 hits in 15 innings, with 20 walks and 14 strikeouts, with six hit batters and five wild pitches. Zaidi was with Oakland when Kazmir was with the Angels, and asked if he thought the left-hander looked done at the time.
"There were games he had where it would have been hard to conclude otherwise," Zaidi said Wednesday. "But I think that is a testament to his will and resolve to getting back at a high level."
Getting back to that high level for Kazmir first took him through the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, also known as the team former NBA star Tracy McGrady pitched for. That was in 2012.
In 2013, Kazmir stuck with the Indians on a minor league deal and showed glimpses of his old self with a 24.1 strikeout rate in 29 starts, again striking out more than a batter per inning. That brought Kazmir to Oakland on a two-year deal, crossing paths with Zaidi.
"I do think there was a certain maturity and appreciation for the game that came about after the struggles that he had, leading up to his coming back in 2013," Zaidi said. "The guy I saw in Oakland was a great teammate, who really appreciated the chance to put the big league uniform on every day."
From 2013-2015 with the Indians, A's and Astros, Kazmir struck out 21.7 percent of his batters faced, putting up a 3.54 ERA, 109 ERA+ and 3.61 FIP, compared to his 3.92 ERA, 114 ERA+ and 3.87 FIP during his days in Tampa Bay. He made another All-Star team in 2014 with Oakland.
Zaidi said the biggest change he has seen in Kazmir from Tampa Bay to the last few years is his changeup, a pitch Kazmir has thrown 17.5 percent of the time the last three seasons, per Brooks Baseball, with a .209 batting average and .317 slugging percentage against that pitch.
"It's one of the best few changeups in baseball," Zaidi opined. "When pitchers have that type of athleticism, their ability to adapt as their careers go on and change their pitching style as necessity dictates, those guys tend to be more successful. I think that what happened with Scott."
It is that changeup that has Zaidi less concerned about the Dodgers potentially having five left-handed starting pitchers in their rotation, along with fellow southpaws Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and when he returns from shoulder surgery, Hyun-jin Ryu.
"Kaz is a guy who has very balanced splits. His best pitch is a changeup, which really neutralizes righties. He's not a quote-unquote lefty in a conventional sense."
Right-handed batters have hit .241/.305/.383 against Kazmir in the last three seasons, compared to .257/.298/.377 for left-handed batters.
"When you have a left-handed starter on the mound, I don't really feel that game is affected by the fact that the other four starting pitchers sitting in the dugout are of one handedness or another," Zaidi said. "From our standpoint, let's just find the five guys who gives us the best chance to win everyday and go from there.
"It sets you up for a situation where having some balance in the bullpen makes some sense, because you'll see a certain type of lineup day in and day out when you have an extreme rotation one way or another in terms of handedness. You have to make sure from a strategic standpoint, you're set up to counter any moves the opposition may make."