August 9, 2017
Re-Calibrating Danny Salazar
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When our colleague Mike Gianella updated the starting pitcher tiers in early June, Danny Salazar barely clung to the bottom in the three-star tier. At the time of the ranking, it’s quite possible it was even a couple spots too high. The flame-throwing righty was striking everyone out, sure, but he also was giving up almost two homers and five walks per nine innings and had a 5.40 ERA. Not great. Salazar was coming off the first of two bullpen appearances, a measure the Indians hoped would help him get things straightened out. After his second outing from the pen, he made another move, this time to the DL. The 27-year-old came off the DL on July 22 and has been HOT FLAME EMOJIS ever since. In 20 innings, Salazar has fanned 28 batters, walked only five, and has surrendered only eight hits en route to a 1.35 ERA. As Paul Hollywood might say while standing over a perfectly baked Genoese sponge cake with raspberry jam, “I like that.”
Let’s get this out of the way: It’s only been three starts. There are tons of guys who can look good, nay, unhittable for three consecutive starts. Having said that, it would appear that Salazar is taking steps on the proverbial journey from thrower to pitcher. Since coming back to the rotation, Salazar has significantly increased his fastball usage, at the expense of his vaunted changeup (a point Eno Sarris explained in greater detail in a recent FanGraphs piece). Leaning on the 96 mph heater has allowed him to throw more strikes (a novel concept), and his 49.2 percent zone rate is nearly three percentage points higher than his career average. He has also enjoyed more success getting ahead of batters, throwing a first-pitch strike nearly two-thirds of the time, a rate almost 10 percentage points higher than his previous career mark.
In addition to the fastball and changeup tweak, Salazar also is throwing more sliders. Heading into 2017, he hadn’t thrown the pitch more than 10 percent of the time since 2014, and had all but scrapped it from his arsenal. In his past three starts, the slider has reappeared, being thrown around 12 percent of the time, and getting whiffs in almost 17 percent of his offerings. In three short outings, the slider went from an afterthought to Salazar’s second-most whiffable (yes, I know this isn’t a word, but you get me) pitch.