You know, picking your fantasy baseball pitchers is surprisingly a lot like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. At the beginning, you want the old reliable guys – you know – the ones that can barely walk. Looking at you R.A. Dickey. You’ve got all this potential for an Oscar-winner/fantasy title. But as the movie and baseball season progresses, you want younger and younger guys with the upside of their ML debuts and big K potential against hitters who have never seen them before. Then after a longgggg middle half (and the dog days of summer in the baseball season), you’re in the final act and you’re ready to throw out there any 20-something-year-old just for the hell of it (just ask Kathy Griffin about that). Or you’ve walked out of the movie because you’re just not into it.
As you well know, Pitcher Profiles usually select a pitcher from Sunday, but with overwhelming questions and requests for a profiling of Danny Salazar, I felt overwhelmed to buck the trend.
Back when I was helping Grey with morning comments on his awesome recaps, I remember people asking if they would start Salazar in his debut. Both Grey and I said no, but we’d keep an eye on the end result. I tuned in for a couple of at-bats, rememeber seeing some pretty nice heat, and then the daiquiris starting hitting us… All-in-all it was a phenomenal debut on July 11th, nabbing a win against the Blue Jays in 6 1-run innings allowing only 3 baserunners and striking out 7. And we all know what that earns you in your debut these days! What’s that Jose Alvarez? That’s right! A trip back to the Minors… Oh the MLB spot start…
After nearly a month of further seasoning in AAA, Salazar was called back up on August 7th and hurled 10 strikeouts in 7.2 innings against the tough Tigers, allowing 4 runs but 2 of those came on his final pitch on a homer by Miguel Cabrera. With 17 Ks in his first two starts, and an Indians pitching staff mowing em down like Custer, I decided to pander to the masses and break down Salazar’s most recent start – last Monday August 12th – to help fantasy owners decide what to make of him for the remainder of this season and beyond:
First Inning: The first pitch is a 90-MPH fastball taken for a strike by Brian Dozier. Salazar is from the Domincan Republic in case anyone was hanging onto the edge of their seats from that open, I don’t think it was that much of a surprise… But what is a surprise, is the second pitch of the game is another heater at 92, it’s over the plate right at the top of the zone and Dozier tees off it for a home run. That wasn’t a terrible pitch, but Dozier sat on fastball, Salazar threw another get-me-over, and it’s adios muchacho. So the first pitch to Joe Mauer is a 94-MPH fastball at the knees taken for strike one, then Salazar hits 95 on the gun on the inside corner and it’s slashed foul, 0-2. Salazar rears back and dots the inside upper black with a 96-MPH heater and strikes out Mauer swinging. You see now why the first pitches at 90 and 92 were very conservative and it cost him. Salazar starts Justin Morneau with a fastball for a strike, again hitting 96, then a 95-MPH heater low, nothing besides fastballs thus far. Then as soon as I say that, Salazar drops an 84-MPH change-up, a beauty on the outside edge dipping low, to get a swing-and-miss, 1-2. The next pitch is another 96-MPH heater up in the zone, Morneau pounds it hard to second, but Jason Kipnis makes a great play and gets Morneau, two down. Up now is Josh Willingham who takes a 96-MPH fastball just outside for ball 1, then Salazar spikes a fastball, 2-0. Salazar hits a nice spot on the outside corner with a 94-MPH fastball that Willingham is very late on and taps foul, then a 96-MPH fastball on the outside lower black gets grounded fairly hard to third, but Mike Aviles scoops it up and throws him out to end the inning.
Second Inning: Still down 0-1, Salazar starts Oswaldo Arcia with a fastball outside, then a change-up low, followed by a fastball at the knees fouled back, 2-1. Salazar reaches back and hits 97 on the gun getting it past a swinging Arcia, 2-2, then another 97-MPH fastball perfectly on the lower black gets hit up the middle, Asdrubal Cabrera makes a sensational diving play, gets it Nick Swisher but Arcia is called safe. Man, that looked like he was out there, the announcers agree, but it’s a tough-luck leadoff single against Salazar. It would’ve been an unreal play and it was hit pretty well up the middle, but still, blown call. So runner on and no outs, Salazar starts Trevor Plouffe with a 94-MPH fastball just outside, gets a 95-MPH heater in there inside, then again outside at 96, 2-1. Salazar again goes inside, the fastball at 95-MPH is a little closer to the heart of the plate and Plouffe looking there absolutely crushes it turning on it, and hits a 2-run laser shot to left to make it 3-0. Tough, tough start for Salazar. The fastball wasn’t terrible, but didn’t have any movement and Plouffe just had the right pitch in mind. Hoping to rebound, Salazar starts Chris Hermann with a nasty 97-MPH fastball in there for strike one, then drops a change-up on the outside corner and gets a cut-and-miss, 0-2. He misses low, then another change-up at 85, perfectly placed, gets a waving swing-and-miss for his 2nd K. Nice bounce back. Salazar starts Clete Thomas with a fastball in there, then paints the outside corner with another change-up and gets a hack, 0-2. A change-up is bounced foul, and the third straight change gets another swing-and-miss, two down. Salazar starts Pedro Florimon with a perfect fastball on the inside corner that gets a weak foul, 0-1, then drops another great change-up low that gets a swing-and-miss, 0-2. Absolutely owning the bottom of this order. Salazar climbs the ladder at 95 but too high, then the 1-2 is a change-up that gets another swing-and-miss diving low, nice change of sight lines, and Salazar strikes out the side after the two-run homer to start the inning. Got angry.
Third Inning: The first pitch of the third is a 95-MPH fastball at the knees for a strike to Dozier, then a change-up goes outside and low, then a dandy of a change-up dipping low on the outside corner gets a swing-and-miss, 1-2, then a 97-MPH fastball pretty close to down the middle but a tad on the hands gets pounded to short, but it’s an easy play for Cabrera, one down. Mauer takes a fastball at 96 for strike one then fouls a Salazar change-up out of play, 0-2. Salazar goes to another change-up, Mauer in protect mode hits it to short for another easy out, two down. Salazar getting it back together. He starts Morneau with a fastball painting the outside corner, then a change-up goes low, followed by another heater, this one fouled back, 1-2. Salazar goes to another change-up, Morneau waves at it adjusting to it just to be able to get it into play, weakly dribbling it to second for an easy out and a great 1-2-3 inning for Salazar.
Fourth Inning: Back out there still down 3-0, Salazar gets a fastball over to Willingham for strike one, then throws a slider, pretty sure his first on the day low and outside, then gets another slider over at 86-MPH to get it to 1-2. A change-up goes into the dirt, 2-2, then another change-up gets laid off on, full count. The payoff pitch is a fastball just an inch outside at 97-MPH, really really tough pitch to lay off on for a leadoff walk. Salazar starts Arcia with a change-up for a strike, then a fastball stays outside, followed by a fastball way high and out of the zone, 2-1. Salazar throws a great slider, it sweeps across the zone and pitch tracker has it looking like a strike but it’s called a ball, and then back to the heater but it’s outside for back-to-back walks. Uh oh. I don’t get why Salazar was asked to start throwing sliders out of the gate this inning when he was putting it together. First pitch to Plouffe is a fastball on the upper edge of the zone and gets pounded opposite field, but caught by Drew Stubbs and advances Willingham to third. So runners at first and third with one out, and Salazar needs a ground ball. He starts Hermann with a fastball outside, then another fastball is high and outside, 2-0. Salazar has lost his release point, and those two at 94 and 93 are showing he’s just trying to get it over. He throws one at 94 on the inside corner and gets fisted back foul, then another heater at 95 paints the outside lower corner, 2-2. Salazar goes with the change-up that goes low, another full count, then a 96-MPH fastball stays outside, now bases loaded with only one out. He’s now walked more this inning than he had his entire MLB career. So hoping to get it back together, Salazar starts Thomas with a fastball on the outside corner that gets a swing-and-miss, then hangs a change-up high, 1-1. Salazar gets another 94-MPH fastball by him to make it 1-2, a change-up low is fouled off, then Salazar goes on the hands at 96-MPH and gets a huge strikeout to the swinging Thomas, two down. One out away from getting out of this mess and starts Florimon with a change-up for strike one, then is high with the fastball at 97, 1-1. Good to see velocity is still there. Salazar goes back with the change-up, it breaks Florimon’s bat and gets a weak grounder to short to get Salazar out of the inning. And at 71 pitches and off a long inning, Salazar’s night comes to an early end.
Final Line: 4 IP 71 Pitches (46 Strikes) 3 ER 3 Hits 3 Walks 5 K Gamescore: 46 Gamescore+: 50.8
Final Analysis: Yikes. Not the start fantasy owners were looking for in a soft matchup at the Twins. Salazar’s Gamescore+ remained above his Gamescore with the high strikeout total in the short outing, but it’s still not the game many spot starters were envisioning.
Featuring a great fastball that was typically around 95 and topped out at 97, Salazar has the power stuff to succeed in the Majors. I knew he had power stuff, but after seeing it hit those high-90s throughout the start, it was really jarring to think back on the leadoff at-bat by Dozier and Salazar lobbing up 90 and 92 to start the game. Salazar needs to amp up the velocity early, establish that fastball by getting it to its peak velocity, and then work in his secondary stuff. To keep hitters off the fastball, Salazar’s bread-and-butter is the change-up which was downright fantastic all game. All three hits in this one were off the fastball and Twins hitters did nothing against the change except ground out weakly or strike out. Salazar started the fourth trying to mix in the slider, which he’s used only 7.2% of the time this year, but while the slider didn’t specifically get him in any trouble, it did cause him to lose his release point and walk those three batters in the fourth. It was probably a good idea to pull him after that long inning approaching 30 pitches since he still isn’t too far removed from a Tommy John surgery in 2010 and barely pitched in 2011.
What’s interesting is that Salazar early in his MLB career has had almost all his trouble coming from righties, who have all 4 homers off him and hit .269 vs. lefties hitting .135. Albeit a small sample size, I think that’s the trademark of a guy with an elite change-up and change-up location – it’s tough for lefties to get to it and/or lay off it when it’s on that outside corner. I don’t think Salazar even needs to do much with the slider right now; he’s effective enough with the fastball/change combo to get through Major League line-ups – he’s got a K rate above 11 in AA, AAA and in the Majors this year. He just needs to keep the velocity up all game and not miss his spots (easier said than done) to ML hitters.
So what to do with Salazar? If you’re reading this now and you’re in a standard league, you’ve probably already dropped him after this tough start. But I actually like him a lot vs. the Angels tonight if Mike Trout is held out with the hammy tightness. With Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick also out, Salazar won’t exactly be pitching against a great team and it’s at LA in a pitcher’s park. Worth the spot start. In dynasty and deep-keepers – love Salazar’s 1-2 punch with the heater and change and think he’s going to have a solid year in 2014.