Danny Salazar is Still Sleeping
If you gave up on Danny Salazar it might be time to reconsider. He had a brutally bad start to the season but down the stretch he was just as good as he was during his breakout 2013 campaign. This might be your last chance to buy him at a discount.
Danny Salazar came out of nowhere late in the 2013 season, brandishing his blazing fastball to deadly effect. In 10 starts over 52 innings he struck out 65 batters while walking only 15. His 3.12 ERA and 1.13 WHIP opened some eyes and suddenly the 23 year old rookie with the 97 mph heater was on the map as a popular sleeper pick heading into the 2014 season. Well… those predictions didn’t turn out too great. Salazar began this season by getting blown up at every opportunity. He put up a horrific 6.04 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in April and was well on his way to another terrible month in May when he got demoted to the minors after three more bad games. His mechanics were out of whack, his release point was too high and his velocity was down. It looked like his breakout 2013 was just a fluke.
Salazar started off his stint in the minors by continuing to stink. After a couple of dismal starts he was put on the disabled list with a triceps strain that had been bothering him since Spring Training. After recovering from the injury he returned to minor league action and his stuff was much improved. Salazar was brought back to the majors soon after the All Star break and went right back into the Indians’ starting rotation. His results were immediately better. His velocity was back to 2013 levels and he was able to keep the walks under control. His 2nd-half ERA was 3.50 in 12 starts, a huge improvement over his wrecking ball first half.
Salazar’s full season line of 6 Wins and 8 Losses with a 4.25 ERA and 1.38 WHIP doesn’t look good at first glance. Dig a little deeper though and you’ll see he fanned 120 batters and walked only 35 in 110 innings. That is quite good. In fact, all of his underlying peripheral stats look rock solid. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA were 3.52, 3.45 and 3.33 respectively. All of those were nearly a run better than his ERA and indicate that he pitched much better than his fantasy stats showed. Loyal TDG readers may remember that my favorite pitching metric is K%-BB% and Salazar’s 17.9% ranked 25th among the 149 pitchers who threw 100+ innings this year. That is a very impressive feat for a 24 year old pitcher, especially considering how he struggled in the first half.
Another factor to consider is the Indians’ pathetic team defense. The Indians rank at or near the bottom of the major leagues in all defensive metrics, including Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Efficiency Rating. That is a problem for all the Indians pitchers, not just Salazar, and it may cost Corey Kluber the Cy Young Award. Kluber’s BABIP was .316 compared to the .258 gifted to Felix Hernandez’s by the Mariners’ #2 ranked Defensive Efficiency Rating. Despite that big disadvantage, Kluber’s stats were almost identical to King Felix’s. Getting back to Salazar, his .343 BABIP was 50 points higher than the league average and a big chunk of that blame goes to the defenders behind him. Having a BABIP that high is just bad luck that has nothing to do with Salazar’s talent level. It is another signal that Salazar actually pitched much better than his 4.25 ERA and 1.38 WHIP indicate. Hopefully the Indians upgrade their team defense next year. That combined with some good luck regression should allow Salazar’s 2015 fantasy statistics to improve markedly.
One potential red flag to keep an eye on is Salazar’s tendency to give up home runs. In many small sample size cases a high home run rate can be nothing more than a random fluke, but in Salazar’s case it could be a long-term issue. He is a strong fly ball pitcher who pitches up in the zone a lot. That type of pitching profile if not corrected could be trouble in the future. It is a similar situation to the Brewer’s Marco Estrada, another high-strikeout, homer-prone hurler who pitches up in the strike zone. Salazar is young and learning the art of pitching, so I imagine he will take steps to lower his fly ball rate and hence his home run rate as time goes by.
Salazar’s stats in the 2nd half of 2014 look remarkably similar to his stats in the 2nd half of 2013 that made him such a trendy sleeper pick in the first place. He should be considered a sleeper in drafts again next Spring. After his nightmare in the first half he is still sleeping. He corrected the flaws that led to the bad results. He has fully recovered from the injury. Much of his poor performance can be traced to bad BABIP luck. So moving forward to next season we should be optimistic on Danny Salazar. I rank him conservatively as a top 50 starting pitcher in fantasy leagues. That means he is a #4 pitcher in 12 team leagues right now. As a young pitcher with a great arm he has the potential to be much more than that eventually. His value is likely to be under-appreciated not only during drafts, but also by his current owners in dynasty leagues. Salazar makes for a juicy trade target this off-season. See if you can acquire him this winter!
What are your thoughts on Danny Salazar? Let me know in the comments below. If you make a trade involving Salazar I want to hear about that too!
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