As the MLB trade deadline approaches, many Cleveland Indians fans are wondering what the front office will do to bolster this championship-level roster. One of the primary suggestions has been that the Indians should look to acquire another starting pitcher, ideally a front-of-the-rotation type. However, with his impressive performance last Saturday, Danny Salazar could be the piece that the Indians are looking for in the rotation. It just depends on which Salazar will show up.
The Tale of Two Danny Salazar’s
Last Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays, Salazar was phenomenal, plain and simple. He began the night by striking out the side on just 12 pitches, all fastballs. While the Blue Jays are certainly having their struggles this season, striking out Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, and Josh Donaldson on 12 pitches is impressive, even without taking into account that it was Salazar’s first MLB appearance since June 3rd and his first start since May 27th. Salazar just rolled on from there as he went seven innings, allowing just one hit with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Yes, it was only one start against a last place team, but it’s an extremely positive sign for a team that needed some positive energy after an awful 1-5 road trip. It was also big for Salazar to pitch well in his first game back just to regain some confidence in himself after a very rough beginning to the season.
The Bad Danny Salazar
Let’s go over that rough start, though, because it needs to be mentioned. Over 55 innings, Salazar posted a 5.40 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 4.58 BB/9, and a 1.80 HR/9. While March and April weren’t great, it was the month of May that really sank Salazar. In 23.1 innings in May, Salazar had a FIP of 6.74, 5.40 BB/9, 3.09 HR/9, 1.84 WHIP, and opponent’s OPS of 1.019. He was not very good, to say the least.
Without diving too deep into Salazar’s numbers, a large reason for these struggles was inefficiency. 36% of Salazar’s pitches were balls and a walk rate over 11% show that Salazar struggled mightily with command. In his start against the Blue Jays, though, he did not walk a batter and just 29% of his pitches were balls. Again, just one start, but it is encouraging.
It wasn’t all bad with Salazar, though, as there were some positives to take away from his brutal first half. For starters, he was still striking out batters at a high rate (12.60 K9, 30.9% K%) and his FIP for the first half was lower than his ERA (4.58 FIP, 5.40 ERA), which means he wasn’t as bad as his ERA would suggest. As well, Salazar had a BABIP of .366 so he was probably getting a little unlucky, but giving up home runs is, quite obviously, not good.
The Good Danny Salazar
As I alluded to earlier, the level of importance that the Indians should place on acquiring a top-end starting pitcher hinges on which Salazar they think will show up. Will it be the Salazar who got lit up at the end of 2016 and the first half of 2017 or will it be the All-Star Salazar that the Indians saw in the first half of 2016? If it’s the latter, then there is no need to acquire another starting pitcher as a rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Salazar would be more than enough to succeed down the stretch and in the postseason.
If you have forgotten about just how good Salazar was in the first half of 2016, here is a quick refresher. In 104.2 innings, Salazar posted a 2.75 ERA, struck out 118, held opponents to an OPS of .613, and maintained a 0.77 HR/9. This is what Salazar can be at his best, an ace of a pitching staff.
Even if the Indians can get 2015 Danny Salazar (3.45 ERA, 7% walk rate) then that would be better than just about any starting pitcher available who the Indians could realistically acquire. Salazar has tremendous talent, and has shown it for long stretches of time, but he has yet to put it together for a full season. Thankfully, he won’t be asked to do it for a full season, just a few months. Salazar’s next start, July 28th against the Chicago White Sox, will be the final test for Indians management to decide on how confident they are that Salazar can eliminate the need for another starting pitcher. If his start against Toronto is any indication, the Indians front office should be very confident.