If you’re a fantasy baseball player, Danny Salazar was probably on your short list of sleepers to target (along with everyone else as you found out come draft day). He gained immediate attention for being able to throw 100, because who doesn’t love that? He also has two plus pitches to compliment the awesome fastball, a wipeout slider and a change up that falls off the table. His rookie season was the pitcher version of what Mike Trout did, striking out 30.8% of all hitters with a 14.8% swinging strike rate, to a 2.75 xFIP. Not only that but the Indians handed him the ball for the Wild Card game against the Rays, and even though the Rays came out victorious, Salazar had grabbed the national media’s attention as the hottest young pitcher in the game.
And then he wasn’t. 2014 has brought some struggles upon Danny Salazar. Not only is his 7.85 ERA abysmal, but his FIP and xFIP have him at 5.70 and 4.12, showing he really has been that bad. He’s striking out less batters too, down to 26.1% and most disturbingly has seen his once elite whiff rate fall to league average at 9.2%. The book on Salazar is out, because teams are just teeing off on him right now. Salazar has experienced strong reverse platoon splits his entire professional career, and 2014 has been no different. Look at his platoon splits so far:
|Batter Handedness||Batters Faced||Avg.||OBP||SLG%||wOBA||K%||BB%||xFIP|
Before going crazy and deciding he’s destined for a bullpen role as a LOOGY, remember the small sample size. But these stats are in line with his career numbers, but a lot worse. Salazar’s inability to pitch to his platoon side is unnerving, because more teams are loaded with right handed batter that can start to tee off on him. He hasn’t been a bad pitcher against lefties, but the way right handed hitters are performing against him he won’t be long for the rotation.
Maybe the biggest concern with Salazar is his fastball velocity. Once elite, the game velo has dropped significantly since last year. This is also a big note because he’s dealt with arm injuries in the past, and velocity drop could be a sign of future injury.
You can see the drop clearly thanks to the chart here. It’s not just that his velocity is dropped, but his results have gone down because of it. We know that velocity is related to strikeouts, so it’s not surprising to see a drop off in those numbers even though the movement on the pitch has stayed the same. His swinging strike rate on the pitch last year was 13.3%, well above the league average 6.9%. This year? It’s dropped all the way to 5.7%.
Not only has his fastball lost effectiveness, but he’s been having trouble encouraging hitters to whiff. His )-Swing% is down from 30.2% to 23.2 %, and he’s hitting the zone much less as well (48.3% to 54.3%). Add this in with increased contact (86.4% compared to 73.3% last year) and it’s not hard to see why he’s been struggling so much. One thing to note is he’s been throwing the ball up in the zone constantly:
Not only is he throwing towards the wheelhouse, but he’s also been very erratic and throwing lots of pitches well outside of the zone. Hitters are starting to pick up on his habits, and his lack of adjustments is starting to show. Hitters are doing better against him as they go gain more appearances against him.
|Time Through the Order||OPS+|
It’s not unusual for pitchers to perform worse as they see hitters more often, but this spike is nothing short of alarming. Salazar’s approach has become very repetitive, and hitters are picking up on it. Without his dominant fastball and now that his slider is all but gone from his repertoire, he’s having immense trouble with righties and will continue to do so. Nothing in here screams small sample fluke, as there are legitimate issues with the way he’s been pitching. Fortunately, he’s only 24 and has plenty of time to fix his errors, and Cleveland is a great spot for him to do that. He still has a bright future, but for now Salazar is just plain terrible.