The Process Versus Danny Salazar | The Process Report

The Process Versus Danny Salazar

With the Indians using Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir over the weekend, they’ll send rookie Danny Salazar to the mound tonight against the Rays.

Having a rookie toe the rubber in an important game is something Rays fans are familiar with, having seen David Price close out games during the 2008 post-season and Matt Moore open the 2011 ALDS in Texas. Salazar is cut from the same cloth;  he has impressed during the regular season and pumps high-octane gas to batters on a consistent basis.

Back in March, Al Ciammaichella from The Diatribe blog ranked Salazar as the sixth-best prospect in the Indians’ organization and has this to say about him:

Salazar sets everything up with his fastball, a pitch with easy mid-90’s velocity out of his loose, clean delivery. He was a shortstop in the Dominican Republic before the Indians had him concentrate on pitching full-time, and his athleticism shows through on the mound. When he’s locating his fastball effectively, minor league hitters are pretty much helpless against him. In addition to the fastball, Salazar throws a hard, biting slider that has outstanding late life. The slider velocity is high enough that hitters can easily mistake it for the fastball, and often start their swing before realizing that the pitch is going to end up a foot outside and in the dirt. The slider is already an above average pitch and has a future plus grade. His other secondary offering is a changeup that while decent, lags behind the fastball and slider at this stage of his development. If the changeup develops into a legitimate third pitch, lingering questions about Salazar’s eventual role as a starter will dissipate in a hurry.

Salazar does indeed leverage his fastball with Price-like veracity. Of the 821 pitches Salazar threw in the regular season at the major league level, 69 percent were fastballs. The changeup, a pitch that was considered his third offering, was his second-favorite offering using it 19 percent of the time while utilizing his slider 12 percent of the time for good reason as it has excellent depth and fade. As good as the changeup has been for him, his fastball is even better.

The fastball gets on batters in a hurry as his average fastball velocity was 96 mph on the season.  Salazar tends to work up in the zone with his fastball, as 75 percent of his fastballs have been classified in the upper half of the zone, and has allowed just 14 hits off those pitches (nine of which have gone for extra bases). This matchup favors batters such as Matt Joyce and David DeJesus who each have had strong success against those types of pitches this season.

Joyce high heat DeJesus High Heat 2013

Salazar has some steady patterns of usage with his fastball. In terms of first pitches, he throws his fastball 73 percent of the time and gets strikes with it at a 70 percent rate.  In hitter counts, Salazar leans on the pitch 86 percent of the time and has yet to throw anything but a fastball in a 2-0 count. When the count favors him, Salazar dials back his fastball usage to 59 percent while using his changeup 29 percent of the time. Batters struggled with the changeup in the regular season when down in the count as nobody had an extra base hit off the pitch and 42 percent of the swings against the pitch came up empty.

Against right-handed batters, Salazar is primarily a fastball/slider pitcher  and has held those 114 batters to a .309 wOBA while he puts the slider in his back pocket against left-handed batters and uses his fastball and changeup to hold those 97 batters to a .267 wOBA.  Salazar allowed 14 extra base hits in 2013, 9 of which came against right-handed batters with six of them leaving the yard.

Salazar’s pitch counts have been closely monitored by Cleveland since he was called up in early July. The young hurler has gone over 100 pitches just once, back on August 7th in a no-decision against Detroit that is best remembered by how he pitched  Miguel Cabrera. In the first three appearances, Salazar struck out the hottest hitter on the planet at that time. In the fourth plate appearance, this happened. Since that outing, his pitch counts have ranged from 71 to 89 pitches and he has topped 80 pitches in just three of the eight outings.

The Rays are a patient team by nature as they led all of baseball with a 9.4 percent team walk rate. One train of thought would be to work counts and chase Salazar from the game early, but that idea is derailed with the fact Salazar throws strikes at a very high rate. In fact,  Cliff Lee, David Price, Bartolo Colon, and Brandon McCarthy were the only starting pitchers with at least 800 pitches thrown who threw a higher percentage of strikes than Salazar. If the Rays hope to chase the rookie early and get to the bullpen, they will have to do it with results rather than pitch attrition. That may be tough as Salazar has shown a knack of bearing down with runners in scoring position as he has limited opposing hitters to a .211 wOBA in those situations – situations the Rays struggled with throughout late August and a good portion of September.

The lineup will likely have DeJesus leading off with some order of Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, and Evan Longoria between Matt Joyce. The Indians have a handful of left-handed relievers to utilize tonight which may lead Maddon to insert Delmon Young between Joyce and Loney with a Jose and Escobar rounding out the order.

Salazar has the talent to make the most of the moment but his inconsistent command is what to watch for. If he falls behinds in counts and falls into traditional usage patterns, he will be up against a team that has been the second-best team in all of baseball with a .362 team wOBA off fastballs.



2 Comments

  1. Jason Hanselman wrote:

    I haven’t seen him pitch other than the occasional highlight, but this sounds like he’s pretty similar to Archer. Maybe the fastball is just slightly better, the slider is probably worse, but he sounds like he has an actual change unlike our version. They’re both athletic and young, but it sounds like Salazar can throw the fastball for strikes at will.

    As a team the Rays saw the fewest fastballs in the league and my guess is that’s because most teams are scared to throw the heater, which beats the alternative that the Rays don’t force them to throw it. This bodes well for guys like Joyce and Zobrist that are good fastball hitters that rarely see one they can do anything with. Hopefully the bats play to take some pressure off the pitching tonight.

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