Kazmir grew up in Houston, Texas and was a pitching phenom at Cypress Falls High School, throwing multiple no-hitters and attracting the attention of major league scouts. He was drafted in the first round (15th overall) of the 2002 Major League Baseball draft by the New York Mets and quickly moved through the organization's minor league system. Kazmir was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball when he was sent to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the 2004 trade deadline in a highly publicized and criticized deal. Kazmir made his major league debut with the Devil Rays on August 23, 2004, when he was only 20 years old. Despite his age, Kazmir quickly became one of the better lefthanded starting pitchers in baseball, primarily by relying on a mid-90s fastball paired with a sharp breaking slider.
Over the next several years, Kazmir was one of the few bright spots on Devil Rays teams that lost at least 91 games during his first four seasons with the club, winning at least 10 games in his every full season with the team. Kazmir was named to his first All Star team in 2006, led the American League with 239 strikeouts and 34 games started in 2007, and is still among Tampa Bay's all-time leaders in many pitching categories, including strikeouts, earned run average (ERA), wins, and games started.
The Devil Rays became the Rays in 2008 and got off to the best start in franchise history, and Kazmir was an important part of the turnaround. He was named American League Pitcher of the Month in May and appeared in his second All-Star game in July. However, a series of nagging injuries led to inconsistency in his pitching motion and gradually reduced his effectiveness over the second half of the season and in the playoffs, even as the Rays made it to their first World Series.
Kazmir continued to struggle with injuries and ineffectiveness early in the 2009 season and spent some time on the disabled list. He had several better starts in July and August, at which point the Rays traded him to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for several minor league prospects. He pitched well for the Angels during the regular season, but had an ERA of over 7 during the 2009 playoffs. His effectiveness deteriorated further during the 2010 season, when he posted the highest ERA among regular American League starting pitchers. Continued poor performances during spring training in 2011 led the Angels to send Kazmir to extended spring training to retool his mechanics and attempt to regain his confidence. However, after a month of extra work, he struggled even more when returning to game action, holding an ERA of over 17 after five starts with the Angels' AAA team. The Angels released him in June 2011.
Kazmir spent over a year trying to recover his pitching touch, working with personal coaches and trainers and pitching for short stints with independent minor league and winter league teams. In December 2012, he signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians and received an invitation to spring training. Solid performances in spring training earned him a spot in the Indians' starting rotation for 2013, and he pitched well enough to come in third in the voting for American League Comeback Player of the Year. In December 2013, Kazmir signed a two-year contract with the Oakland Athletics and continued his resurgence by winning a career-high 15 games during the 2014 season and making his third All-Star appearance. Kazmir continued to pitch well for the A's in the first half of 2015, and with his contract expiring at the end of the season, he was traded to his hometown Houston Astros in July. In 2016, he signed a three-year, $48 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kazmir attended Cypress Falls High School in Harris County, Texas, where he was a two-sport athlete, through his sophomore year, pitching on the baseball team and starting at quarterback on the junior varsity football team. During one stretch on the high school baseball diamond, Kazmir threw five no-hitters in six games (three consecutive no-hitters, a one-hit game, followed by two more no-hitters). As a senior, he struck out 172 batters in 75 innings pitched and had an earned run average (ERA) of 0.37. By the time he graduated, Kazmir was averaging around 17 to 18 strikeouts per game.
Kazmir was highly recruited in both sports and verbally committed to the University of Texas at Austin to play college baseball for the Texas Longhorns. However, Kazmir was drafted in the first round (15th overall) of the 2002 MLB draft by the New York Mets and signed on to play professional baseball. Along with teammate Clint Everts (who was selected 5th overall by the Montreal Expos), he became half of the first pair of high school pitchers from the same team drafted in the first round.
Kazmir quickly advanced through the lower level of the Mets' minor league system and was promoted to the Binghamton Mets of the Class AA Eastern League on July 10, 2004 during his second full season of pro baseball. On July 30, he was traded along with minor league pitcher Joselo Díaz to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for veteran starting pitcher Víctor Zambrano and minor league reliever Bartolomé Fortunato. This trade continues to be widely criticized by the New York media and fan base given Kazmir's subsequent success and Zambrano's lack thereof.
The Devil Rays sent Kazmir to their Class AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League, where he started four games, throwing 25 innings and allowing 14 hits while striking out 24. In late August, Tampa Bay called him up to the major leagues, bypassing the Triple-A level altogether.
Kazmir made his major-league debut on August 23, 2004, pitching five shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners. He had a 2–3 record and an ERA of 5.67 in 8 appearances (7 starts) in 2004, but he was clearly making strides in his development; he struck out 11.07 batters per nine innings. On September 9, Kazmir made his only relief appearance with the Rays, allowing one run in three innings against the Yankees.
Kazmir started the 2006 season opener April 3 at Baltimore. At 22 years, 2 months and 10 days Kazmir was the youngest opening day starter since Dwight Gooden with the Mets in 1986. He lost the decision after 6 ER in 4 IP, but was subsequently extremely impressive with an overall 10–8 record with 163 strikeouts and a 3.24 ERA in 144.2 innings pitched. Kazmir has won decisions against Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, two-time 20 game winner Jamie Moyer, two-time All Star and 20 game winner Dontrelle Willis, 2001 World Series co-MVP and 3-time 20 game winner Curt Schilling, 2003 World Series MVP Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield, who is 14–2 lifetime against the Rays.
On June 22, 2006 Scott Kazmir passed Sandy Koufax and put himself in the 22nd spot in MLB history for most strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher before his 23rd birthday. He also picked up his team leading ninth victory in the process.
On July 2, 2006, Kazmir was elected by the players to appear in the 2006 MLB All-Star Game, his first all-star appearance. The next day, he threw his first (and thus far only) complete game shutout, blanking the Boston Red Sox in Tropicana Field on 2 hits while striking out 10.
In the All-Star Game, Kazmir threw a perfect sixth inning, retiring Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Beltrán, and Albert Pujols.
On August 22, 2006, Kazmir struck out eight Texas Rangers, becoming the all-time Rays strikeout leader.
2007 is generally considered to be Kazmir's best year. He led the AL in strikeouts (239) and games started (34) and also set career highs in wins (13 on a Devil Rays team that won only 64 games), innings pitched (206.2), and WAR (5.8).
Kazmir was one of the MLB's most unhittable pitchers in 2007, with hitters only making contact 74.5% of the time, the fourth best in the league. In their year-end review, Baseball Prospectus proclaimed, "Health permitting, he`s one of the best pitchers in the AL."
It was also during this time that Tampa Bay fans began crowning Kazmir with the nickname "Pizza Man" which was a reference to a longstanding promotion at Tropicana Field where if the Rays pitching staff combined for 10 strikeouts during a game, attendees of the game could trade in their ticket stub for a free pizza at participating Papa John's restaurants. The inference was that when Kazmir was pitching, there was a much higher chance of a free pizza for fans.
Kazmir strained his elbow at the beginning of Spring training in 2008. While the injury was not considered serious at the time, the Rays were cautious with their star pitcher. His recovery and belated season preparation delayed his first start until May 4, when he faced the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.
After a "rocky" season debut, Kazmir had perhaps the best month of his career in May. He set a team record for wins in a month, going 5–1 with a 1.22 ERA and not allowed more than 1 run or 4 hits in a game after his first start. For his efforts, he was named the AL pitcher of the month, the first Rays player to win the honor.
Kazmir was named to the American League squad for the 2008 MLB All-Star Game. Though the Rays' management preferred that Kazmir rest his arm and not pitch in the mid-summer classic if at all possible, the game ended up being the longest ever and Kazmir stepped to the mound in the 15th inning. He threw a scoreless frame and the AL all-stars scored the winning run in the bottom of the 15th, making Kazmir the winning pitcher.
Kazmir was less effective over the second half of the season, posting a 5–3 record and 4.02 ERA as the Rays won their first American League East championship. In the postseason, Kazmir made 5 starts and went 1–1 with a 4.21 ERA as the Rays won their first AL pennant. But in what was a continuing trend, he could never work very deep into a ballgame, averaging just 5 innings while throwing over 100 pitches per start in the playoffs.
Kazmir averaged 4.28 pitches per plate appearance on the season, the highest rate in the majors. "He's an ace as far as his numbers go", Baseball Prospectus wrote, "But he doesn't do many of the other things one expects from an ace. He regularly misses time here and there (in 2008 it was an early-season elbow strain), he's so inefficient that he often hits 100 pitches before he's made it to the fifth inning, and he can become a scheduled strain on the bullpen. Don't get us wrong, he's great, and clearly worth the nearly $40 million he'll receive over the next four years, but he's far from deserving of the "ace" designation."
During the season, the Rays and Kazmir agreed on a four-year contract extension which guaranteed the lefty $28.5 million and had a maximum value of approximately $39.5 million if the team picked up his option for the 2012 season.
Kazmir again started the 2009 season on the disabled list with elbow issues and was activated on April 8. He accrued a 4–4 record with an ERA of 7.69 before going on the disabled list again on May 23 to rest a leg strain and to work on problems with his pitching mechanics. He returned on June 27 and went on to have a record of 8–7 with an ERA of 5.92 and 91 strikeouts as of August 28, 2009.
On August 28, 2009, Kazmir was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for second baseman Sean Rodriguez and minor leaguers Alexander Torres and Matt Sweeney.
On his Angels debut, against the Seattle Mariners, he received the loss, going 6 1⁄3 innings, giving up one earned run and striking out eight. At one point he retired 16 batters in a row.
Scott Kazmir made his home debut with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on September 8, 2009 once again pitching against the Seattle Mariners, going seven innings and giving up only one run in a no-decision. Kazmir continued to pitch well for his new team during the remaining month of the regular season, posting a 2–2 record with a 1.73 ERA. However, he fared less well in the postseason, going 0–1 with a 7.56 ERA in two starts and one appearance in relief.
In Spring training 2010, Kazmir noted that he was not in best shape in the 2009 season. "I'd get nine or 10 pitches into an inning, and I didn't have the explosiveness I wanted", Kazmir said. "I was falling off pitches and stuff like that. At one point, you kind of wonder."
In the offseason, Kazmir focused on strength and flexibility training to reduce strain on his arm. Manager Mike Scioscia said, "He'll be in the right arm slot more often instead of dropping down to compensate or flying open", Scioscia said. "It's all connected. With a more consistent delivery, he'll minimize risk to his arm, because it's not doing more work than it has to.".
Despite this winter regimen, Kazmir began the season on the disabled list with hamstring and shoulder issues. He made his first start on April 15, a loss to the Yankees. His struggles continued throughout the first half of the season, as he posted the worst ERA among starters in the AL (6.92) along with a 7–9 record. Quoted in the Los Angeles Times in July, Kazmir said "It kind of feels like I'm thinking too much about where I'm throwing the ball and things start snowballing, and the next thing you know you don't really know what's going on."
On July 18, he was placed on the disabled list with left shoulder fatigue.
Kazmir returned in August to mixed results. He finished the season with a 9–15 record in 28 starts, and his 5.94 ERA was the highest in MLB among pitchers who worked 140 or more innings.
Kazmir struggled again in spring training, giving up 19 runs in 23+ innings, and was touched for 5 runs in 2+ innings in his first regular season start. Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that Kazmir's struggles were "baffling" and that, despite a rigorous off-season training regimen, the former all-star pitcher had neither velocity nor command. Kazmir was placed on the DL and sent to extended spring training to "sort things out".
After working on his mechanics for a month, Kazmir was sent to the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels' Triple-A affiliate, for a series of rehabilitation starts as he tried to work his way back to the major leagues, possibly as a relief pitcher. However, his struggles only grew worse in the minors. Kazmir had a 17.02 ERA in 5 starts, walking 20 and striking out 14 in 15+ innings. He was released by the Angels on June 15 despite having $14.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract.
In December 2011, Kazmir tried to start a comeback by pitching winter ball for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League. His only start did not go well, as he gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 4 earned runs in one third of an inning.
Kazmir continued to work out and held bullpen sessions for scouts from several major league teams over the winter and spring of 2012. However, he did not sign with a major league organization.
On July 7, 2012, Kazmir signed with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League, who play near his hometown of Houston. Kazmir started 14 games for the Skeeters and finished the season with a 3–6 record and a 5.34 ERA.
In November 2012, Kazmir signed with Gigantes de Carolina of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League. While he posted a 4.37 ERA, he struck out 27 batters in 23 innings and his fastball velocity was reported to be back in the 94–95 MPH range.
Kazmir signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians on December 21, 2012 and received an invitation to spring training. After pitching well during the spring, he was named the team's 5th starter heading into the regular season. On May 4, 2013 against the Minnesota Twins, Kazmir won his first major league game since 2010. In his next start he fanned 10 Oakland batters without issuing a walk over six innings of one-run ball to win his second consecutive start. It was the first time winning back-to-back starts since his 2010 season.
While not consistently regaining his former velocity, Kazmir's ability to better command his pitches helped him to have a season that saw him come in third in the voting for the 2013 American League Comeback Player of the Year Kazmir started 29 games (his most since 2007), posted a 10–9 record (most wins since 2009), and had a career-best strikeout to walk ratio of 3.45.
After his resurgent season in Cleveland, Kazmir signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the Oakland Athletics on December 3, 2013. Kazmir pitched 190 innings for the A's in 2014, the second highest total of his career, and finished the season with a 3.55 ERA and a 15 wins, a career high. Although his strikeouts per 9 innings rate dropped from 2013 (9.2 to 7.8), Kazmir posted a career best walks/hits per 9 inning rate (1.161) and was consistently effective until August, as his ERA rose over a full run from July until the end of the season. Kazmir was named to the 2014 AL All-Star team, his third appearance in the game and first since 2008.
In 2015, Kazmir began the season as the A's third starter and enjoyed one of the most effective extended stretches of his major league career. Over his first 18 starts, Kazmir's 2.38 ERA and ratios of 8.3 strikeouts and 6.9 hits per nine innings were among the best in the American League. He was also consistent, giving up more than three earned runs in a start only once.
The A's were not in serious contention for a playoff spot as the trade deadline approached, and Kazmir was rumored to be a potential acquisition target for several teams seeking to improve their starting pitching. On July 23, 2015, he was traded to the Houston Astros for two prospects - catcher Jacob Nottingham and pitcher Daniel Mengden.
Kazmir won his debut with the hometown Astros, going seven innings and giving up three hits with three strikeouts in a 4–0 Astros victory over the Kansas City Royals. However, he was less effective with Houston than he had been with Oakland. Over 13 starts, he earned a 4.17 ERA with ratios of 9.6 hits and 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and his record was 2-6.
Houston made the playoffs as a wildcard team, and Kazmir started game two of the 2015 American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals. He pitched into the 6th inning and gave up 3 runs, and although he left the game with the Astros holding a 4-3 lead, the Royals came back to win the game 5-4 and took the series in five games.
On December 30, 2015, Kazmir signed a 3-year, $48 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made 26 starts for the Dodgers, with a 10–6 record and 4.56 ERA.
Kazmir was focused on improving his mechanics going into spring training, a problem that had bothered him at the end of the previous season but battled a hip injury for much of camp. Possibly as a result of the injury, he suffered from a loss of velocity on his pitches and his poor performance in Cactus League games led to him losing his spot in the starting rotation and beginning the season on the disabled list. He worked on refining his delivery and hoped to rejoin the club at some point during the season however he experienced some discomfort after a minor league rehab appearance in late June and was shut down again. He was sent home for a time in July to work with a body mechanics specialist in Houston. He did make some end of season rehab appearances for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
When Kazmir was enjoying success during his first several seasons, his best pitches were a four-seam fastball and a slider. His fastball was regularly clocked in the mid to high 90s with excellent command, and his preferred strike-out pitch was his slider, which many scouts and other observers compared to that of Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. On the advice of teammate James Shields, he added a change-up, which also became an out pitch.
Repeated injuries followed by repeated attempts to tweak his mechanics and throwing motion saw Kazmir's entire repertoire dwindle in effectiveness. His fastball velocity dropped until topping out in the mid-80s in 2011, and he "lost his feel" for the slider, using it only sporadically and with poor results after his early 2008 stint on the disabled list.
In 2013, Kazmir returned to the major leagues with a modified slider that was thrown with less velocity than his pre-injury pitch, registering in the mid-80s. His fastball velocity improved to the low to mid-90s with a mix of four-seam and two-seam fastballs. Kazmir continued to throw a change-up in the low 80s and an occasional curve ball.3× Major League Baseball All-Star (2006, 2008, 2014)
American League Pitcher of the Month (May 2008)
2× American League Player of the Week (May 21, 2006, September 16, 2007)
American League strikeout leader (2007)
Baseball America High School Player of the Year (2002)
Member of the United States Junior Olympic baseball team (2001)
Set a single-season record for strikeouts by high school pitchers in Texas with 175 for Cypress Falls High School (breaking the previous record of 172, set by Josh Beckett)
Threw four consecutive no-hitters as a high school junior. While going for his fifth consecutive no-hitter he gave up a hit with two out in the seventh inning. After this, he finished the game, and subsequently pitched two more consecutive no-hitters.