World Series X Factor: Pitcher Danny Salazar

Cleveland Indians righty Danny Salazar has been an excellent pitcher when healthy. Before the All-Star game in 2016 (to which he was named a starter), his 2.75 ERA was second in the American League. However, he has had some trouble staying healthy, experiencing elbow issues, and the poor performance in the second half  – presumably associated with the injury –  led to a DL stint in early September. He finished the season with a 3.87 ERA (121 ERA+) – still a well above-average number, but reflecting a fairly poor second half with a 7.44 ERA over just 8 games. While Cleveland manager Terry Francona has determined that Salazar is healthy enough to return to the Cleveland roster for the World Series, he may not be the dominant pitcher who appeared in the first half of this season. Salazar made his first appearance of the postseason during Game Two, pitching a scoreless sixth inning – though he did walk two batters. Francona has said he is available to throw 60-75 pitches if rested, so he remains an option as a starter for Game Five if he is not needed over the next two games.

What he throws:  Four-seam fastball (“FF”), two-seam fastball (“FT”), slider (“SL”), curve (“CU”), and changeup (“CH”). It should be noted – he will not likely use his curveball this postseason, as it aggravated his forearm:

Pitch usage and trends: Salazar is mainly a fastball/changeup/slider pitcher, mixing in his two-seam fastball with some regularity (12.7%) and occasionally showing his curve (3.1%). His four-seam fastball, averaging 95.1 mph and peaking at 99 mph, has well above-average velocity, and has excellent separation in speed from his 86.3 mph changeup:

Salazar does not treat right- and left-handed batters very differently; he throws sliders somewhat more frequently to right-handers, and changeups slightly less often, but otherwise his repertoire is similar. When ahead in the count, however, he pitches very differently than when behind. When he is behind in the count, he focuses mainly on his fastballs (70.3% four-seam, 16.0% two-seam). Ahead in the count, he is much more likely to throw off-speed pitches (31.2% changeups vs. 7.5% when behind) and sliders (12.8% vs. 5.4%):

Pitch value: Salazar’s four-seam fastball is somewhat more effective than the average fastball, based on the total bases yielded per 100 pitches, and his changeup is slightly better than average, especially since he can effectively throw it for strikes: It is somewhat better than average in terms of balls per 100 pitches. His two-seam fastball and slider are both around league average, while his rare curve is much better than average as far as giving up total bases, but is also worse than average in throwing strikes:

Pitch location: The charts below display the typical locations of Salazar’s pitches. His four-seam fastball, especially to right-handed batters, is often close to the center of the strike zone, although the broad spread of the contour plot shows that he also targets the edges of the strike zone with the pitch. His two-seam fastball is much more likely to miss the center of the zone, often outside to left-handed pitchers and at the top of the zone to righties, although they may also see this pitch at either bottom corner. His slider most often hits the bottom outside corner to righties (bottom inside to LHB), but also has a very good chance of dropping out of the zone completely. His curve is somewhat unusual in that it focuses on the top of the strike zone, explaining both the pitch’s effectiveness (when it unexpectedly drops in for a strike) and its high rate of balls (when it fails to drop all the way in):


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Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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