Rankings Counterpoint: Targeting Danny Salazar
Danny Salazar came out of nowhere and made a huge splash in the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation in the second half of 2013. His success was a true skills-based breakout, not merely a hot streak or a luck-fueled mirage. In this article I will show you why you should target him aggressively via trade or in your draft.
Prior to 2013 Salazar was a guy nobody had ever heard of. He wasn’t even ranked highly on Indians top prospect lists. He hadn’t done anything to distinguish himself in the minor leagues and had only recently recovered from Tommy John surgery on his elbow.
Salazar is not a big man at 6’0” tall and 190 pounds, but boy can he throw hard. In fact, his average fastball velocity of 95.9 mph was the 2nd-fastest in the major leagues last year among starting pitchers (behind only Nate Eovaldi’s 96.1 mph). He has thrown 100 mph Blazing Fastballs in game action, which is a rare feat for starting pitchers. Salazar’s fastball had the highest whiff rate in the major leagues among starters, coming in ahead of Matt Harvey and Yu Darvish. In addition to the fastball he employs a sinker, slider and wicked splitchange that combine for an effective 4-pitch starter’s repertoire that should ensure he remains a starting pitcher despite his smallish stature.
In 2012 in the minors Salazar put up a really good ERA and FIP and exhibited excellent control, but his strikeout rate was underwhelming. That changed in a big way in 2013 when his strikeout rate boomed to 13.63 K/9 in AA, then 11.83 K/9 in AAA, then 11.25 K/9 in the majors. Combining that stellar strikeout rate with a good walk rate of 2.60 BB/9 yielded a K:BB ratio of 4.33 and an ERA of 3.12 over 52 major league innings. His 3.16 FIP, 2.75 xFIP, and 2.79 SIERA all confirm that his 3.12 ERA was real and not a fluke. There is every reason to believe that Salazar will continue to pitch at an ace-like level.
The main concern with Salazar is whether or not he can hold up over a full season in the Indians’ rotation. Can he pitch deep into games and be a 200 inning workhorse? Salazar pitched a total of 145 innings in 2013 in the minors and majors while showing no signs of tiring late in the season. He averaged only 6 innings per start. To be an effective fantasy starter for your team he is going to need to pitch deeper into games to get credit for those all-important Wins. Salazar was coming off a 2012 season where he only pitched 87 innings, so it is easy to see why the Indians limited his innings in 2013. Moving forward we can expect the Indians to allow him to pitch deeper into games. I predict they will limit him to about 180 innings in 2014 and remove the limit altogether in 2015 and beyond.
As hard as Salazar throws he will continue to post superb strikeout rates. He has always had excellent control so he should have no problem maintaining a quality WHIP as well. If Salazar pitches 180 innings he could approach 200 strikeouts while turning in a very good 3.10-3.50 ERA and an excellent 1.13-1.20 WHIP with 12-15 Wins. Those are the stats of an ace fantasy pitcher but most people don’t know who he is!
How many times do you have the chance to grab an elite pitcher on the cheap in a dynasty league? I believe Danny Salazar will be an elite pitcher as long as he is healthy. Salazar’s sensational 2013 proved he is healthy. Nobody can say for certain that he will remain healthy and productive, but you can say that about every pitcher in the major leagues. Yes, Salazar has had Tommy John surgery, but I don’t think that means he is more likely to get hurt than any other pitcher. There are quite a few pitchers who have had arm injuries in the past that are ranked well ahead of Salazar right now on experts’ lists. Almost every pitcher will break down eventually, but I don’t think Salazar is any more of a risk than dozens of other good young pitchers, most of whom have never proven they can pitch at an elite level in the major leagues like Salazar has done.
Now is the time to strike. Chances are the guy who owns Salazar in your league doesn’t know quite how valuable he is. Make a trade offer and snag him quickly before all the sleeper articles start hitting the Yahoo, ESPN and CBS websites. Target him hard.