Sex sells. Just turn on your t.v. and tune into any non-Disney/PBS/kid-friendly channel for a few minutes and you’ll see what I mean. Beer commercials, video game ads, movie trailers. You’re bound to catch a glimpse of Kate Upton or one of the Victoria Secret models flaunting her assets at some point. But what does sex have to do with baseball, and fantasy in particular? Good question.
The answer is power. Power is sexy. Power bats and power arms. Giancarlo Stanton just received $325 million from an owner who still clips coupons out of the Sunday newspaper every week. Felipe Paulino might be the chick at the bar with the butterface and the muffin top, but the D-cups keep teams coming back for more (though they’re probably more like B-cups stuffed with socks these days). What’s Joel Zumaya up to these days anyway? His right arm might be held together by chewing gum and duct tape, but I bet some team would offer him a minor league deal if he somehow managed to flash a plus fastball in a throwing session. That brings me to Danny Salazar.
Last pre-season, he was in the sexy flame-throwing tier of starting pitchers that’s currently occupied by Carlos Carrasco, Yordano Ventura, and Garrett Richards, among others. An incredible 10 start run in 2013 (3.12 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.25 K/9, 4.33 K/BB) made him a trendy breakout candidate. Had he thrown enough innings to qualify, his 96.2 mph average fastball velocity would’ve been tied for the highest mark in MLB among starting pitchers and his 14.6% SwStr% would’ve led the league by a substantial margin. Sexy indeed.
Unfortunately, in the first half of 2014, the beer goggles were ripped off and all of Salazar’s flaws became exposed. Across his first eight starts, Salazar’s fastball velocity dropped to 93.7 mph and his SwStr% fell all the way to 10.6%. He began to have some control issues as well, experiencing a steep decline in first pitch strike percentage from 67.3% to 57.1% and a corresponding jump in BB/9 from 2.6 to 3.76. A 14.8% HR/FB rate combined with a .369 BABIP caused his ratios to predictably balloon as well (5.53 ERA, 1.62 WHIP). This disastrous stretch led to a surprising demotion to Triple-A.
Once he was recalled to the big leagues, Salazar got his sexy back. Whether his first half issues were mechanical or health related, he seemed to have gotten past them and looked like the dominant pitcher from ’13 in the second half of ’14. His fastball velocity of 95.1 mph was 7th highest among all starting pitchers in the 2nd half, and his 11.3% SwStr% was 12th best in MLB. His first pitch strike percentage returned to an acceptable 61.4%, which allowed him to get ahead of hitters more often and cut his BB/9 down to 2.34. All of these factors resulted in a much more palatable 1.24 WHIP and 3.50 ERA (which could have been even lower based on his 2.83 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, and 3.20 SIERA marks).
What does all of this mean? Simple. It might be possible to draft a #2/3 SP at a low-end #5 price (NFBC ADP of 232) should the current ADP data hold through March. Low risk for a potentially high reward? Now that’s sexy.