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2014 Fantasy Baseball: Danny Salazar, Return from the Milk Carton?

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Remember Danny Salazar? I do, because I paid way too much for him in my Ottoneu auction. I knew he had his warts – home runs, perhaps stamina issues, and injury history. Nonetheless, I pulled the trigger because of his ability to miss bats. It didn’t quite work out for me. After posting a 5.53 ERA (4.71 FIP) in 40.2 innings, and seeing his strikeout and walk rates go in the wrong direction, he was sent to Triple-A. So, how’s that gone?

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GS K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP ERA FIP
9 28.2% 10.5% 17.7% 0.255 1.52 4.50 3.93

Not great, but not terrible either.

Immediately upon being sent down, Salazar surrendered home runs in his first six (!) starts. In his first start, he didn’t make it out of the third inning, giving up five runs. Moreover, in his nine Triple-A starts, he’s only pitched past the fifth inning five times; four of those have occurred in his last four starts, though.

Outside of Corey Kluber, the Indians’ rotation hasn’t been very good. They’ve amassed 7 WAR; Kluber has been worth 3.4 by himself. Justin Masterson is safe, except for the fact that he’s hurt and will be on the DL for a little while. Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer should be there for good, too. The fifth spot, though? It’s been a hodgepodge of Zach McAllister, Salazar, and T.J. House. McAllister hasn’t had a start in the majors since May 21, but he has been very good in Triple-A, posting a 2.23 ERA in six starts. House has been better of late, posting a 3.57 ERA (4.11 FIP) in the past 30 days. House is currently safe. More than likely, Cleveland is choosing between Salazar and McAllister to hold down Masterson’s spot until he returns. So, what are they getting if they choose door number one?

Taking out Salazar’s first Triple-A start (not exactly fair, but we all knew he was broken to pieces when he went down), he’s done the following:

GS K% BB% K-BB% AVG WHIP ERA FIP
8 30.1% 9.9% 20.2% 0.242 1.41 3.77 3.52

His strikeouts have returned to the levels we expect, and he’s been less friendly with free passes. Homers are still an issue (.99 per nine innings), but given his willingness to pitch up in the zone, they’re likely always going to be there. In fact, over the past month, he’s had the same peripherals, but his ERA (2.84) and FIP (2.76) are much better, solely because he’s allowed fewer homers (.36 per nine).

Is he figuring things out? Or is he just pitching better against a lower quality of competition? Cleveland thinks he’s figuring some things out. Granted, they’re always going to want to paint a nice picture, but still, it’s nice to hear.

From the Columbus Dispatch’s Jim Massie:

Danny Salazar flashed his old form last night at Huntington Park and Roberto Perez simply kept doing what he has been all season in a 10-1 drubbing of the Louisville Bats.

As Columbus’ catcher, Perez had the best look at Salazar from the familiar distance of 60 feet, 6 inches, and he felt the old electricity of the 2013 season.

“Yes, this was the best,” Perez said. “His fastball today, he had some life on it. His change-up was working.

“Even his slider — that’s his third-best pitch — it was working today. We were using it behind in the count, ahead in the count. He threw the ball well.”

Although the offense, which included seven doubles, helped make Salazar’s job easier, he still pitched a game that drew a smile from manager Chris Tremie.

“He had good rhythm and good tempo on the mound,” he said. “He had really good off-speed pitches as well as locating his fastball. He was dominating tonight. It’s the best I’ve seen this year. His change-up was really good, and what made it so good was how good his fastball was.”

From Jordan Bastian:

“I think he will [pitch in the majors this year] once he’s ready,” Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said prior to Tuesday’s matchup with the Dodgers. “He’s going to be able to help us out a lot — kind of like he did last year. He’s got the stuff. We’re looking forward to having him back in the rotation at some point.”

Salazar missed some time with a right triceps injury in the Minors, but he has been solid since coming off the disabled list. In his past four outings, the righty has posted a 3.47 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and registered 29 strikeouts against six walks in 23 1/3 innings. On Monday, Salazar struck out nine, walked one and gave up one run in 7 1/3 innings against Louisville.

“It sounded like he looked good. His [velocity] was good,” Callaway said. “It looks like he’s getting ready to come up here and help out. I’ve seen his mechanics. He’s pretty much where he was last year at the end of the year. He’s looking really good. That’s exciting for us.”

If we are to believe Salazar’s old pitching coach and his Triple-A catcher, he’s close to being back. I don’t think any of us are that trusting. Nonetheless, the results are encouraging.

Salazar’s command deserted him in April, walks were up and dingers were prevalent. In 2013, Salazar was in the strike zone roughly 51% of the time. That number dropped to 47% this year. Combined with his loss of velocity and Mickey Callaway’s comments, mechanical issues seem to have been the culprit. Doug Thorburn, from Baseball Prospectus, outlined a few of said issues here ($). His improved walk rate in Triple-A is encouraging, and frankly it’s all we have to go on at this point, considering the scarcity of minor league data. [Note: Minor League Central does offer some pitchf/x data, but it looks a little wonky. They have Salazar at a 64% zone% in Triple-A, 50.4% in the MLB. The second number seems reasonable, and is close to Fangraphs’ 52.3% mark. I just have a hard time believing he threw that many strikes in Triple-A. For comparison’s sake, his Triple-A number this year is 57%; his MLB total is 48% (FG has 46%). Do with that what you may; I’m honestly unsure what to make of it, except it’s fairly obvious he hasn’t been in the zone as much in 2014 at either level.]

Salazar has all of the potential in the world; that’s why we all wanted to draft him. A disastrous stint doesn’t ruin all of that potential. It might destroy a little good will, but oh well. It seems like Cleveland wants to give Salazar another shot sooner rather than later. Considering they’re 3.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot, he might represent their biggest chance. For the most part, we know what Zach McAllister is: not a game-changer. A healthy, firing-on-all-cylinders Salazar is, though. If/when he gets the call, I’m not adding him immediately – we just spoke about good will, after all – but I’m monitoring his situation very, very closely.

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