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Anatomy of a pitching meltdown, part 1 -- Scott Kazmir

Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir tops my list of this year's underachieving pitchers, and with a quick look at his numbers, I think few would argue with that choice. Last year, Kazmir posted a very respectable 3.49 ERA, with a whopping 166 strikeouts in only 152.1 innings pitched. He has followed it up so far this year with a miserable 6.17 ERA, with only 81 K's in 105 innings.  So what accounts for this drastic downfall? Well, I delved into his pitch data from 2008 and 2009 to see if I could figure it out. Here's what I found:

Kazmir has lost, on average, a whole two miles per hour off of his fastball from '08 to '09. For a guy who threw about 75|PERCENT| fastballs last year, that kind of drop in velocity would obviously have a huge impact. This year, he's had to pretty much reinvent himself, relying on his slider a lot more often. He's been throwing the slider more than twice as frequently as he did last season, and considering it doesn't have a lot of break to it, that's not a good thing. It also doesn't help that his slider has lost velocity either. Not surprisingly, opposing batters have been teeing off on both pitches at an alarming rate. Another thing that Kazmir has done to try to compensate has been using more 2-seam fastballs to complement his 4-seamer, but it hasn't made enough of a difference to overcome his loss in velocity. To his credit, he's been shying away from last year's strategy of pounding the upper half of the strike zone with fastballs, which is always a good idea for a pitcher without a plus fastball.

So what does this mean for your fantasy team? Well, don't expect Kazmir to turn things around overnight. He was decent in his last start, but even so, his ERA for the month of August currently sits at 6.00, and his K totals are still down. His velocity has come up a bit since the start of the season, but it's still not quite where it needs to be, and it might take some time for him to regain the confidence that made him so successful in the past. While he can't possibly be any worse than he's already been thus far, he'll probably be no better than league average over the final month of the season. Hopefully by next year he'll have gained back some of his lost velocity and regained some confidence to help make him a decent pitcher once again.