"If Lackey leaves, I am confident that one of the young guys will step up. Last season Weaver blossomed when the rotation was devoid of veterans. Who's to say that another won't step up his game? My bet is on Kaz."I figured that it could wait till closer to spring training and then I could do a whole post on what I predict from the Angels this coming season.
Well, it turns out I'm not the only one high on Kaz.
Perhaps my reluctance to write that post was based in my method for arriving at my expectation. I'm not a stat-junkie, so my prediction is based on this gut feeling acquired by observations and fringe-y information. Not scientific at all.. and as an engineer, that doesn't really fly. But I'll can at least try to explain my good feeling about Kaz.
I have to start at the beginning. I remember when I found out about the trade. My first reaction was shock (no surprise) which turned into worry (when I found out Torres was in the deal), which turned into excitement (when I realized that Kaz was signed beyond 2009), which was then tempered with worry (when it appeared the PTBNL was someone of value). I was skeptical at first how he'd perform the rest of the season. Besides the fact that he was leaving Tampa Bay as a francise player, he had been hurt and generally horrible all season, up to a few starts prior. Don't get me wrong, I was excited to see that Reagins had bought low on a former All-Star, but I didn't really think he'd light the world on fire when he got to Anaheim. His debut in Seattle told me something. When he walked loaded the bases in the first inning, I guessed that he hadn't left his problems in Tampa Bay. But when he struck out the side in the first inning, I realized he still had a lot of fight in him. That's been the big nugget of information that gives me this good feeling about his performance next season.
Kaz came to the Angels as a reclaimation project. After reaching the World Series the previous season, 2009 was a horrible mess for him. His season took him to ineffectiveness to the DL to Rick Peterson to search for answers. This was a young (25!) pitcher that had experienced success at an even younger age and by all accounts, had a characteristic swagger. But when he came to the Angels, I noticed that it was missing. Sometimes when the batter hit his pitch, he would fall off the mound with his head down almost as if he's saying in his head, "oh, @!#$..." It was a striking difference to what you would expect from someone with his talent and past success. However, I sensed that he had this burning desire to climb back to the top. He continually "nibbled" for strikeouts (his previous calling card), but what struck me the most was his post-game interview after ALCS Game 4. The anger and frustration on his face was clearly etched. I'm talking about the antithesis to the Angels' company line of "Well, we didn't do x, but we'll turn the page on this one and go get them tomorrow." And I imagine, that coupled with the trade, that experience plus the fateful error in Game 6 has put him on a mission.
So I was pleased but un-surprised (a first, huh!) when an article came out about Kaz's new rigourous offseason routine. I don't subscribe to ESPN, but I googled and found a text copy-and-paste job on the Kazmir section. The gist is that Kaz has been working out since one week after the Angels were eliminated and his new regimen focuses on strengthening his core muscles to allow for a more repeatable delivery. Furthermore, he's working with Butcher on modifying his slider to make it more consistant.
(His offseason work with Butcher is intriguing. A lot of Angels fans think he can "fix" Kaz, and while I'm skeptical of that, I agree that its interesting that last season Kaz went outside the organization to seek help from Rick Peterson.)
I'd also like to add that the attendance in Anaheim is likely another motivating factor. Kaz was disappointed in the fan support in Tampa Bay and I'd bet Anaheim is a glorious difference - you're even beginning to see more than a few Angels fans during road games. I remember, before his first start as an Angel at the Big A, he was heading to the bullpen to complete his warm-up. A bunch of fans and I were lining the stands closest to the 'pen and as he passes the gate, he looked up, saw us there, and broke into this huge grin. That's when I knew that the fans were important to him. (His reputation down in Tampa Bay also say that he's the type that will make time for the fans.) And really, I think Angels fans are ready to be won over.
So there you go. I see Kaz as a extremely driven and talented and I think those two qualities will translate into big things next season. I'll qualify my reasoning with two things: I like to root for the underdog and Kaz's signature is on my hat. Kaz isn't exactly an underdog, but most of the talking heads wrote him off during his disasterous 2009 season. I love that he's working hard to come back and he's quickly become my favorite pitcher (followed closely by Saundo, fyi). As of now, I'm not sure if I'll hand my hat over to get another signature to join Kaz's. Nevertheless, I'm not the type that reads into gut-feelings, and there is something that tells me this one's for real. Maybe its cause he's not Cole Hamels with a looney wife and he focuses on baseball instead. Ah, maybe stretching the relevance, but its funny, no?
Slightly offtopic, but the Angels got Kaz on the company line - sort of. After spewing a laughable article on Fuentes, the Angels PR people picked up on the optimism for Kaz and reported his offseason workouts. At the bottom of the article you can see they quoted him as very complimentary to the Pineiro signing. He's only missing the part where someone in the rotation will become the ace fans are clamoring for. Maybe its cause he plans on being it!