24 March 2011

the curious case of kaz

I'm an obvious fan of Kaz, despite the well-earned vitrol he's gotten from the general fanbase. While I still have hope in him, I understand why others do not. He was beyond bad last year. Er, beyond beyond beyond bad.

I was hopeful this spring that he'd be able to recapture some semblance of effectiveness after spending the offseason under the careful eye of Butcher. But I definitely wondered if I was being unrealistic and if I was foolishly overlooking the general feeling in the halosphere that Kaz was done.

You'd think that I could make something of this dilemma from numerous spring training starts, but I'm even more perplexed.

I listened to Kaz's start today and it closely mirrored the results of his last start. Disastrous beginning, a few solid innings, high pitch counts, maybe a glimmer of hope, but tiny incremental improvements. All it needs is to be followed by quotes that he felt good and Sosh giving lukewarm endorsement mixed with skepticism.

I don't know. I want to believe that he could be a good starter, to the point where I doubt my own judgement. But then again, I'm skeptical of the dismissive attitude that the halosphere has taken with him. I think, as a fanbase, we're still experiencing the after effects of the disappointment with the Kaz trade. We thought we were getting an ace - someone that could fill Lackey's spot and someone that can slay the Yanks, BoSux, and Rangers. Well, we got someone that now has trouble putting away the Brewers. Some, I think like me, are overly optimistic because we really want to believe the Halos weren't swindled. Others, I think, are overly pessimistic and believe that since Kaz can't fufil those expectations, the Halos should eat his money and employ Bell or Palmer in his slot. I generally don't believe that there is a clear-cut better option than Kaz. Remember, all the Angels are asking of him is to be a serviceable fifth starter.

What I really want from Kaz is consistency. Whether he's consistently good or consistently bad, there's some comfort it knowing what the Halos have. Before last season, I advocated in giving BWood a shot so that we could what he is. It didn't go so well, but at least the Halos now know that they have a need at 3B (not that they did anything productive with that knowledge). The same goes for Kaz. The Halos need to know what he is and unfortunately, he hasn't really complied.

Is he simply experiencing a blip in an productive career? Even top pitchers, like Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, were sent down to the minors when they hit a wall in the majors. Kaz is still young enough (27) that he can recover. But then again, baseball is a funny, fickle game and there are washouts all the time - even young ones. Dontrelle Willis was once a premier, rising pitcher - now he's pretty much done. Ditto with Ian Snell.

It all makes me wonder what really causes such downfalls and ascensions. Kaz actually had a career year 3 years ago (2008), the same year as Ervin. Similarly, Ervin battled an injury in early 2009 that sapped mph off his fastball. But Ervin learned to pitch with less and there's no question that his results have been much better. Kaz has blamed "manipulating his body" to try to create more mph on his fastball for his difficulties last year. So can he learn, like Ervin, to pitch with less? Lee became so good when he changed his approach and learned a new pitch (he also has improved his command, but I'm not sure if that's a result of changes in approach, natural talent, or adding the cutter). Is his troubles all mental? Halladay took his minors assignment to create a mental approach that helped him climb back up to Toronto.

My best guess? Kaz is fighting himself. What I learned when I played sports is that personality and mental approach matters. Playing soccer, I was never a great goal scorer, despite my talent in seeing plays unfold. I just didn't have the killer instinct to finish. In baseball, I feel that mental state is so much more important where the natural pauses in the game allow for thinking to replace instinct. It always struck me that Kaz really wanted to be great. A big problem last year was the deterioration of his confidence - and it's quite obvious to me from his spring training quotes that confidence is something he's working on. Perhaps he'll utilize the newly employed sports psychologist.

I don't know. Maybe he's hurt. Maybe he's done. An ace at 24, a bust at 27? What a shame.

Just maybe, there's something still left. :::crosses fingers:::

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