Learning Lessons, with Danny Salazar and Miguel Cabrera

Last year, Miguel Cabrera won the American League Triple Crown and the American League Most Valuable Player Award. You might’ve heard about that. This year, Miguel Cabrera has been even better. His wRC+ is up dozens of points. His WAR is almost even despite it still being the beginning of August. Offensively, Cabrera’s been having one of the very greatest seasons ever, helping to make up for Prince Fielder‘s extended slump. Cabrera’s been the kind of good we take for granted — we eventually take all kinds of good for granted — but in those fleeting moments of clarity and appreciation, Cabrera knocks us on our asses. It’s absurd, basically, what Miguel Cabrera has done, and can do.

The in-contention Indians were dealt a difficult blow when Corey Kluber landed on the disabled list with a finger injury. Kluber’s a good pitcher, see, and in-contention teams need good pitchers, and the Indians had to turn to prospect Danny Salazar on Wednesday night. Wednesday, Salazar made his second big-league appearance and start, facing the Tigers for the first time. Meaning he was facing Miguel Cabrera for the first time. Interesting things happened.

For our purposes, we’re going to ignore the game around the specific Salazar/Cabrera at-bats. The game had a lot of meaning to a lot of people, but FanGraphs isn’t in the business of issuing game recaps, and more importantly, the game isn’t actually over yet as I’m writing this. Salazar is a FanGraphs favorite, having appeared numerous times within Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five. Cabrera is a FanGraphs favorite, having continued to be an amazing baseball player. Wednesday, they faced off for the first four times. It all began in the top of the first.

AB No. 1

Cabrera batted with two out and none on, the first two batters having been retired on six fastballs. Cabrera had never seen Salazar before, so he took a pitch, a fastball outside. Then he took another pitch, a fastball that hit the low-away corner. Then he took another pitch, then he took another pitch, then he took another pitch. After five fastballs, the count was full, and twice Salazar had missed up with two strikes. Cabrera still hadn’t seen Salazar break a pitch off. Salazar had Cabrera set up for a split-change, his eye level at the top of the zone. Salazar threw something new.

SalazarCabrera1.gif.opt

Cabrera couldn’t pull the trigger, and in their first-ever showdown, Danny Salazar walked off with a six-pitch strikeout. Cabrera issued no protest.

AB No. 2

Cabrera batted with two out and none on, the first two batters having whiffed. By this point he’d seen Salazar, and he’d seen Salazar start most hitters off with fastballs. So Cabrera aggressively went after a first-pitch fastball up in the zone, fouling it off. The pitch checked in at exactly 100.0 miles per hour. Then Cabrera went after a second-pitch fastball in, off the plate. The pitch would’ve been a ball, and it was in on the hands, but Cabrera excels against pitches in off the plate, so I’ll extend to him the decision-making benefit of the doubt. He fouled it off, falling behind 0-and-2. Cabrera had seen, first-hand, Salazar throw a two-strike change. He’d also seen, in other at-bats, Salazar fold in a slider. He had to protect against an offspeed pitch up, and Salazar took advantage of that.

SalazarCabrera2.gif.opt

Cabrera appeared to be late. Two plate appearances, two strikeouts, between a rookie and maybe the greatest hitter in the world.

AB No. 3

Cabrera batted with one out and none on, the first batter having gone deep and the second batter having grounded out. Again, Cabrera aggressively went after a first-pitch fastball, because he’d observed Salazar’s pattern. He fouled it off. That’s when Salazar decided to let Cabrera see the slider for the first time for himself.

SalazarCabrera3.gif.opt

Another slider just barely missed, with Cabrera checking his swing and appealing to first. The count, then, was 1-and-2, and in two-strike counts, Cabrera had seen Salazar throw a slider, a change, and a fastball. He’d just seen two good sliders in a row, but he’d also struck out twice on pitches up, one fast and one a little less fast. Salazar decided to reach back for triple digits.

SalazarCabrera4.gif.opt

That’s Danny Salazar blowing a two-strike, 100 mile-per-hour fastball right by Miguel Cabrera. That’s Miguel Cabrera almost losing his balance after taking a hack. Three plate appearances, three strikeouts. Here’s the complete record of starting pitchers who have struck out Miguel Cabrera three times in the same game:

That’s 11 instances, but only three instances since the beginning of 2008. See, a funny thing has happened to Miguel Cabrera’s strikeouts.


Source: FanGraphsMiguel Cabrera

What Salazar did isn’t unprecedented. Throwing a perfect game isn’t unprecedented. Something doesn’t have to be unprecedented in order to be amazing, and Salazar shut down the probable repeat league MVP. Through three showdowns. There would be a fourth.

AB No. 4

Cabrera batted with two out and one on, the first batter having popped out, the second batter having struck out, and the third batter having singled. All three times before, Salazar started Cabrera with a fastball. Twice in a row, Cabrera went after those first-pitch fastballs. Cabrera, also, was Salazar’s 30th batter of the game, and of the first 29, 26 saw first-pitch fastballs. Cabrera decided he’d be aggressive again. Salazar tried to stick with what worked. The crowd actually rose to its feet, understanding the circumstances.

SalazarCabrera5.gif.opt

Like that, the Tigers took the lead. Like that, Salazar’s evening was over, and though he left to an ovation, it wasn’t quite as raucous as it could’ve been. The fastball Cabrera hit out was 95.9 miles per hour. It was Salazar’s 103rd pitch. This is the first time all year Salazar has worked into the triple digits. In fairness to Terry Francona, Salazar’s previous two fastballs, to Torii Hunter, came in at 99. In fairness to Terry Francona, Salazar had those three strikeouts in three at-bats. But, over time, starters get worse. Over time, hitters figure starters out. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter, and against Cabrera you want to take the least number of chances. Against Cabrera late, you’d probably want a fresher arm, even if the arm on the mound is still blazing the baseball.

Miguel Cabrera learned some lessons about Danny Salazar on Wednesday night. He learned that Salazar has an unbelievable fastball, and he learned he’s aggressive with it, but he also learned Salazar’s not afraid to throw a world-class hitter his changeup or slider. Cabrera, surely, won’t soon forget these plate appearances. Meanwhile, Danny Salazar learned some lessons about Miguel Cabrera on Wednesday night. Most importantly, one lesson: eventually, Miguel Cabrera is going to get you. Salazar knows, now, that Cabrera can be defeated, but he also knows, now, how swiftly and decisively Cabrera can end up with the last laugh. All hitters make outs most of the time, against pretty much all pitchers. Cabrera’s are the outs you most have to earn.

Salazar isn’t going to forget these plate appearances, either. Especially not the first three. Especially not the fourth. Every successive showdown is built upon prior lessons. Between these two, I’m looking forward to the fifth.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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John
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John
2 years 9 months ago

Salazar pitched great all game. I love the last GIF though, 96 on the gun and Salazar thought Cabrera popped it up, which he kinda did just a really long one. But the body language after Salazar saw how far that ball was going to go was priceless. Never having pitched I can’t imgiane the feeling when it feels like you throw the perfect pitch just to turn around and see it go out, but Cabrera has that effect on a lot of pitchers.

channelclemente
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channelclemente
2 years 9 months ago

And then there was Romo.

Nathan
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Nathan
2 years 9 months ago

Yeah, I must be a total asshole, because as a Tigers fan, I love the last GIF because you can see the instant Salazar goes from “I’m the best, I got this” to “nobody look at me.”

Steve
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Steve
2 years 9 months ago

Love this. Salazar has the potential to be legit, but Miggy took it to him after figuring him out. He’ll learn.

BenH
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BenH
2 years 9 months ago

Cabrera is a great hitter and may have crushed a better located fastball, but it seems to me that people here (author included) have lost sight of the fact that Salazar threw the ball completely right down the middle!

abreutime
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abreutime
2 years 9 months ago

The point is the best part of that GIF.

Shannon
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Shannon
2 years 9 months ago

Phenomenal post.

S. Urista
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S. Urista
2 years 9 months ago

I am in love with this post and want to marry it.

olethros
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olethros
2 years 9 months ago

I just want to fuck it into exhaustion.

Post
Guest
Post
2 years 9 months ago

/more please harder harder

frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29
2 years 9 months ago

Well deserved coverage, thanks for this post.

SirCub
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SirCub
2 years 9 months ago

After reading this post, I just want to keep watching these two match up. It would be really cool to just watch a great pitcher face a great batter, like, 30 times in a row.

The Humber Games
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The Humber Games
2 years 9 months ago

Huge mistake to leave him in against Cabrera. He was throwing well, but had just given up a single to Hunter and had gone over 100 pitches. You could tell he was overthrowing and not locating as well, and you can’t leave him in to face the game’s best hitter a fourth time in that situation. Cash out and be happy with what you got.

t
Guest
t
2 years 9 months ago

I thought so also but as a fan I really wanted to see it. Maybe tito got a little caught up in the moment. But I also thought he should have seen the Perez implosion coming in game 1 of the series.

Really, I was surprised Salazar came out for that inning at all. They must have lifted his pitch count since his last MLB start. I believe it was 80 in that start.

The Humber Games
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The Humber Games
2 years 9 months ago

Exactly, as a fan it was awesome when he came out for that inning and I liked the move. But the Hunter single w/ Cabrera coming up next should’ve been bullpen time.

clevelander
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clevelander
2 years 9 months ago

I think Tito knew his alternative to a tiring Salazar was Joe Smith, whom Cabrera owns to the tune of .348/.423/.609 lifetime. So yeah, maybe the moment played a role, but Salazar was still the best option.

Ed
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Ed
2 years 9 months ago

No Salazar wasn’t the best option. Cody Allen was fresh and has owned Cabrera (7 PAs, 0 hits, 1 walk, 1 sac fly, 3 Ks). Francona made a really poor decision. Period.

the fume
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the fume
2 years 9 months ago

Miggy was tipping his hat to the kid after the 1st 2 Ks, and seemed a bit flummoxed after the 3rd. In the interview after the game, he was asked what he was thinking going up to the 4th, and he was joking that he was hoping they’d go to the bullpen. Nothing but praise for the kid in the interview as well, thinks he’s gonna be really good for a long time.

I agree, with those 3 pitches and the easy delivery he’s gonna have a nasty combo of stuff and command.

t
Guest
t
2 years 9 months ago

After watching the game I was hoping for this post. Thank you.

Didn’t work out for Salazar last night but as long as that TJ surgery holds up he has a bright future. Especially if someone besides Santana catches him.

WhatLeylandNoooo
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

I think it’s worth adding that Miguel is still playing with an abdominal strain that is visibly bothering him. I wonder how much it is actually effecting his ability to swing the bat. For example, does it account for his off-balance swing in his third strikeout? The Fox Sports Detroit announcers of course are saying it has no effect on his ability to swing (but effects his ability to run, and bend for ground balls on defensive).

bada bing
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bada bing
2 years 9 months ago

It’s a hip flexor strain he is dealing with. I’ve encountered a couple in my time, and I doubt that they would affect the swing at all. It sure makes running hard, though.

dave k
Guest
dave k
2 years 9 months ago

I believe it is both…hip flexor and abdominal. It appears he can hit just fine, but he can’t run.

He is the antithesis of Willie Mays Hayes: He hits like Mays, but runs for shit.

Fastpiece
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Fastpiece
2 years 9 months ago

*SNORE*

Hirohitahomerun already
Guest
2 years 9 months ago

You don’t like baseball?

Scott
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Scott
2 years 9 months ago

Fastpiece is singlehandedly keeping Fangraphs comment culture alive

tz
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tz
2 years 9 months ago

Jeff, once again thanks for the GIFs and attached commentary.

Here’s what the impact on the average Fangraphs post looks like (in “summary” form):

With GIFs: Wow, cool! /no work done for next 40-50 minutes

No GIFs: Hey, Danny Salazar’s FIP vs. Miguel Cabrera went from -2.73 to 10.27 in just one swing of the bat /snarksnarksnark

isavage30
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isavage30
2 years 9 months ago

For the record, Salazar was not replacing Kluber in this start. He was already announced before Kluber got hurt, they were calling him up they wouldn’t have to use Ubaldo against Detroit.

Aidan
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Aidan
2 years 9 months ago

I love how even studs are learning things evey game. Cabrera seeing that some young guns have legit, major league stuff and sequencing to pair, and Salazar learning that Miguel Cabrera flyouts are often not flyouts at all

Cybo
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Cybo
2 years 9 months ago

Just wanted to point out that the gun in Progressive is a on the juice. Bruce Rondon hit 103in that same game, riiiight.

Bread n Mustard
Guest
Bread n Mustard
2 years 9 months ago

I thought about that too. I had heard that Salazar works regularly in the mid-90’s and can hit triple digits but in this game he was clocked in the high 90’s constantly. Did they raise the radar gun to get fans excited?

Sal Fasano's Mustache
Guest
Sal Fasano's Mustache
2 years 9 months ago

The radar gun at the Jake has been reading high all season, not just Salazar’s starts. If you look most players will have their peak velocity at games played there. That said, Salazar has hit 100mph in the minors before, so it is legitimate.

KCExile
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KCExile
2 years 9 months ago

He also was hitting 98 in his start at Toronto.

tribetime19
Guest
tribetime19
2 years 9 months ago

They’re definitely juiced, in the first game of the series Verlander was throwing it harder, more consistently, than any of his starts this year. And only one guy in the league can hit 103 mph and his name rhymes with slapman. Still, Salazar was blowing his fastball by every Tiger, including Cabrera until the 8th inning. He might not have been hitting 100 mph consistently but he was running it up in the high 90’s with incredibly high voltage. It was a pleasure to watch.

coreyerb
Guest
coreyerb
2 years 9 months ago

I wondered about that when Scott Kazmir started against the A’s early this season. I wanted that 96 to be true, simply for his comeback’s sake, and Salazar hitting 101 was fun to watch, but I guess it doesn’t take a lot from either to say those were probably a bit inflated.

bdsparty32
Member
bdsparty32
2 years 9 months ago

Kazmir was hitting 95mph pretty consistently in his last start @ Miami, and Bruce Rondon throws 100 with ease. Pretty sure I’ve seen him hit 102 @ Comerica a couple times as well.

The Party Bird
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The Party Bird
2 years 9 months ago
tribetime19
Guest
tribetime19
2 years 9 months ago

Great post Jeff, this was one of the best games in baseball this year and deserved extra attention. If Salazar develops his offspeed stuff he will be Cy Young caliber.

drewbradley2116
Member
2 years 9 months ago

Here’s the complete record of starting pitchers who have struck out Miguel Cabrera three times in the same game:

Danny Salazar, 2013
Ervin Santana, 2012
David Price, 2010
Jason Hirsh, 2007

Who the fuck is Jason Hirsh?

FirstCasualtyofWAR
Guest
FirstCasualtyofWAR
2 years 9 months ago

I only remember him from how he let me down as a fantasy GM, but Hirsh was a 6’8″ righty for Colorado in the late aughts who had a high-90s fastball and a decent curve. Unfortunately, he had a Farnsworthian aptitude for laying his fastball right down the middle with little movement.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
2 years 9 months ago

For posterity, I believe a complete list of pitchers who have given up a home run to Miggy should have also been included. You know, for posterity.

Juan
Guest
Juan
2 years 9 months ago

Danny is a rookie, and he made a rookie mistake. Just when a
rookie thinks he has everything under control, the batter
will show you otherwise. I say batter because it doesn’t
have to be Cabrera. MLB players are the best hitters in the
world. Any .210 hitter could figure out Salazar as well.
After the third strikeout the situation called for a
pattern change. And Salazar, and his catcher, showed no
respect to Cabrera, by not changing the pattern. Cabrera
just put them in their place. After all, Alex Cobb got
Cabrera to look foolish,striking out on splitfinger
changeup, and Cabrera complimented saying that it was
the best he’d seen. Salazar should’ve count his
blessings after his third strikeout of Cabrera, and not
challenged him. Live and learn !!!

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