The Indians recalled Danny Salazar to start Tuesday's game against the Twins, which means it's time for Fantasy owners to recall exactly how good the pitcher was in the second half of last season. Once they do, his 54 percent ownership rate should get much, much closer to triple digits.
Salazar delivers outstanding numbers in the minors in 2013, posting a 2.71 ERA and 129:24 K:BB ratio in 93 innings to earn himself his first shot at the majors. He took full advantage, excelling in 10 starts for the Indians while posting a 3.12 ERA and 65:15 K:BB ratio in 52 innings. It appeared a star had been born.
This season, Salazar hit a wall, earning a demotion back to the minors after turning in a 5.53 ERA and 47:17 K:BB ratio in 40 2/3 innings. What happened?
For starters, Salazar saw his fastball velocity dip in a major way. After averaging about 96 mph with the pitch last season, the second-year pitcher clocked in at under 94 mph on average with the heater. As a result, he saw batters swing much less on pitches out of the zone and make more contact when they did swing.
But even with those negatives, Salazar didn't pitch as poorly as his numbers would suggest. He was victimized by a .369 BABIP and a strand rate of about 70 percent after turning in a more typical .298 BABIP and 83.3 percent strand rate in 2013. He saw an abnormal amount of infield hits. His flyball rate increased, and his home run rate really increased. Putting a handle on those things could go a long way to rediscovering his stride. The fact that he posted a 3.84 xFIP while turning in a 5.53 ERA in his first 10 starts shows that the potential is there.
He may have started to turn a corner with Triple-A Columbus recently. After serving up a home run in each of his first six starts with the minor-league club, he's kept the ball in the park for four straight outings. That stretch also included three straight nine-strikeout performances, a level he reached in five of his 10 Triple-A starts over the past two months.
The one aspect he is still struggling with is control, as he issued 11 walks over his last two outings combined. Though that level of wildness is never acceptable, he was able to limit the opposing offense (Indianapolis, in both cases) to a total of five hits and one earned run in 11 2/3 innings.
Could Salazar come back to the majors and struggle? Absolutely. He has made gains in the minors, but it's not like he's blowing away the competition. However, if the cost is just a pickup off the waiver wire, what's the risk? Salazar proved last season he has the ability to be one of the best pitchers in baseball when at the top of his game. That's more than can be said for any other noninjured potential pickup in your league. I'm adding him wherever he's available, and I suggest you do the same.