The first major shoe of the impending MLB trade deadline bonanza has officially dropped, as the Houston Astros acquired Scott Kazmir from within the division, sending pitcher Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for the lefty hurler. It’s a bold, but expected move from the upstart Astros, who were expected to be better in 2015, but not quite to the degree at which they’ve performed for much of the year.
A starting pitcher was always going to be in the cards for the Astros, who had been rumored to be looking at some of the top pitchers on the market, including Cole Hamels. But Kazmir came at a much lower price and should be a nice rental for the ‘Stros as they prepare to head into the home stretch of the 2015 regular season.
The Astros rank 10th in the league in starting pitcher WAR, at 9.2, a figure which ranks fourth in the American League. Of course, much of that is due to Dallas Keuchel, who started for the AL in the All-Star Game last week, as well as Collin McHugh. The two represent the only two Houston starters to actually start their full slate of games this season, with 20 starts apiece. Nobody else has more than 11.
In terms of ERA, the Astros are pretty middle-of-the-road, ranking 14th in the league with a 3.96 figure across their starting staff. Collectively, though, they’ve been slightly better than that, with a 3.62 FIP that ranks 11th in the bigs. They also rank 13th in the league in K/9, at 7.23, and 15th in the league in BB/9, at 2.67.
While the Astros staff hasn’t been outright bad, more so just average, Scott Kazmir should prove to be a tremendous addition for them, especially with what he’s managed to turn in recently. On the season, Kazmir has pitched to a very nice 2.38 ERA with a respectable 3.09 FIP to go along with it. His strikeouts are up from last year, at 8.29 K/9, but his walks are also up a touch, at 2.87 per nine. He immediately becomes the no. 2 starter for Houston, in terms of WAR, as his 2.2 figure trails only Keuchel.
A couple of things that Kazmir has done well this year include his ability to induce swings on pitches out of the zone, which has resulted in less contact and more swings and misses. His 31.9% O-Swing rate is his highest of his career, while opposing hitters are making contact 77.8% of the time, the lowest since his Tampa Bay Devil Rays days back in 2007. His SwStr%, at 10.8%, is also his highest mark since that year.
But it’s his recent performance that really has folks excited about what Kazmir could bring to the Astros. Though he’s had a couple of minor injury concerns, he’s pitched to a 0.47 ERA and a 1.88 FIP in the month of July. He’s pitching his best of the year at a time when he’s about to enter a race for a division title with Houston.
The good news for the Astros is that he doesn’t even have to be that good to be a tremendous asset down the stretch. If he can continue to replicate the performance that he’s turned in for the A’s in these last couple of years, he should serve his exact purpose toward the front of this Houston rotation.
The good news for us? This should ignite a fire under other teams to start moving more quickly to acquire assets as the trade deadline nears. Hold onto your butts.
**Statistics via FanGraphs
Randy Holt is the managing editor for Statliners. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.