Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Wither Danny Salazar?

A few years ago, I remember hearing Keith Law on some podcast talking about how scouting comes down to a yes or no answer, either acquire or do not acquire. Scouts can’t waffle. You either want the player or you don’t. I like the bottom-line certainty of that in this confusing world of the false notions of hope and change, globalization, automation, rapid technological change, and yet a seemingly permanently stagnant economy. Wait, what? I don’t know; the point is the world is a very confusing place in 2014.

And so but my fantasy strategy this season was to buy the bats early and get young pitching later. I was able to draft Jeff Samardzija (1.46 ERA), Sonny Gray (1.99 ERA), Yordano Ventura (2.80 ERA) and Michael Wacha (2.54 ERA). Samardzija isn’t exactly young (29 years old), but there’s probably less mileage on his arm given his college football background. Those three are a pretty solid rotation foundation.

The guy I was most confident in, however, is already toiling in Triple-A. Danny Salazar was still missing bats (25.5 percent strikeout rate) with Cleveland this year after a dominant ten-start showing in 2013. When I saw him throw late last year I immediately put him into my “acquire” pile for 2014. What’s not to like about a guy averaging 96 mph on the heater with a plus-plus change? Unfortunately, Salazar had control (9.2 percent walk rate) and command issues (1.77 HR/9) over eight starts to open this season, earning a demotion. His average fastball velocity was down three ticks from last year.

Salazar is out and former (and arguably current) top prospect Trevor Bauer is back in the Cleveland rotation. Bauer is a good cautionary tale for those ready to pull the plug on the talented Salazar. Like Salazar, Bauer had some early-career velocity dips. After averaging 92.8 mph on the fastball last year, Bauer’s velocity is up to 94.6 over his two big league starts this season. With the velocity bump has come an increase in strikeouts. In 2013, Bauer struck out 19.3 percent of Triple-A hitters and just 13.6 percent over four starts with Cleveland. So far in 2014, he’s fanned 24.2 percent at Triple-A and 26 percent in the big leagues.

The real question with Salazar in the long-term might be his health. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010 which, combined with the sudden velocity loss, could be construed as evidence that health is the problem here. That’s obviously just speculation; perhaps his problems are just mechanical. We don’t know what the problem is, but we do know that something isn’t right with Salazar in the here and now when everything looked pretty great just a handful of months ago.

If Salazar could dominate in the big leagues before, he can certainly do it again. He’s only 24 years old, he has swing-and-miss stuff, and he’s had recent professional success. It’s far too early to quit on a talent like this, just as it was too soon to give up on Bauer.

The 23-year-old Bauer was the third pick of the 2011 draft and a top-ten prospect in 2012. The 24-year-old Salazar looked like a future ace last year. Arms like this don’t grow on trees, and they also don’t always grow on a linear trajectory towards stardom. There are often bumps in the road, and stardom isn’t guaranteed. However, in the final analysis, Bauer and Salazar remain two young arms worth riding the waves of struggle with towards fantasy success and perhaps renewed hope in Cleveland.




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Mark Reynolds graduated from Dominican University of California in 2008 with a degree in Political Science. Since graduating, he's been "blogging" about baseball and other topics.


27 Responses to “Fantasy Baseball Existentialism: Wither Danny Salazar?”

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  1. WilyMoMania says:

    I read somewhere, forget where now, but Cleveland had him change his vertical release point. You can see the difference in his pitchf/x maps from this year to last. No idea as to why they changed it, but it has changed and the Indians had him do this. Would be great if anyone knew anything more..?

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    • WilyMoMania says:

      I should have mentioned, I brought this up as speculation to his velocity change, and in hand, his results.

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    • isavage30 says:

      You sure you’re not thinking of Carlos Carrasco? They didn’t have Carrasco change his release point, but had him raise his left arm in his delivery. Can’t think of anywhere I read that they tinkered with Salazar’s delivery.

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  2. isavage30 says:

    I think the “velocity loss” thing with Salazar is way overplayed as a source of his struggles. In his final start before he was sent down, he was averaging 95, and it was a poor performance. You are comparing his velocity in April of one year (pitching in cold, windy weather in half his starts), to his velocity in August-September of the previous year, and saying he’s had some drastic velocity loss. August-Sept of a year when he was on a strict pitch-count of 75 and didn’t need to hold anything back for those 75 pitches. Salazar’s struggles this year had a lot more to do with his nonexistent slider, inconsistent change up, and poor command, then that he was dealing with lower velocity. Hitters would sit on the fastball, occasionally get fooled by a change up, and either take the slider or hit it over the fence if it was on the plate. His off-speed stuff was inconsistent last year too, but the short 75-pitch outings masked a lot of that, and his slider was at least a pitch he could throw, albeit inconsistently. This year, the thing didn’t even break most of the time, it just hung in the zone. He’s in AAA with the mandate to work on his off-speed pitches. If that doesn’t work, he’s probably the Indians’ closer next year

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    • You are right: velocity does tend to increase as the season goes on but by how much on average? Also, I didn’t say it was a drastic velocity loss, I said his “fastball velocity was down three ticks.”

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      • isavage30 says:

        Well, it was up to 95 in his final start, so probably that much. (Brooks Baseball shows 95.9 for that 5/15 start on his 4-seam, fangraphs shows 95). In any case, the same average velocity he had last year, so by 5/15, he was not down any ticks at all. And in that start, he got very few swings and misses on the fastball. Lots of foul balls.

        The Indians said that his velocity in April of this year was identical to his velocity in Akron the year before. Just saying, I keep seeing all this hand-wringing about Salazar’s velocity, which to me is a.) a false narrative, as the velocity loss relative to last year had to do with being April and pitching in some really poor weather conditions, and b.) an incorrect diagnosis of his struggles. If hands should be wrung, it should be for his off-speed stuff sucking. When Salazar was coming up, there was a thought that he would end up as a reliever, and that was a big reason he wasn’t a higher-rated prospect. And if he can’t find his slider, that likely is his future.

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    • uniqueusername says:

      He also really didn’t get stretched out in spring training.. They babied him. Only pitching 10 innings the entire time in 3 outings..

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  3. Babyspittle says:

    take heart.

    a few less (R)’s blocking economic aid, and we’d have been at full employment already.

    we have a chance to correct that, but right wing propaganda networks (like fox) are working overtime to make sure we don’t.

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  4. fothead says:

    Any time you find yourself wanting to give up on still young guys like Salazar and Bauer, just remember how the first few years in the career of Cliff Lee went.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      And much like Cliff Lee, you would want to give up on them until they give you a reason not too.

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  5. jon jonson says:

    Does this mean we’re gonna have to play the whole year with Overbay at first? Or is this just a side gig?

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    • internet guy says:

      lol, his name is the same

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      • jon jonson says:

        You’re right, 3:52 am rights really terrible jokes. But regardless of the time of day, there’s no excuse for not being able to distinguish between homophones……. Or feeling inflated self-importance cuz tha internetz

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      • jon jonson says:

        P.S. Self-deprication

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  6. Jim says:

    What the heck does any of this have to do with existentialism?

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    • SeattleSlew says:

      If FG uses the word 153 times in the month they receive a donation from the World Existentialism Organization.

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      • RunTeddyRun says:

        Occurrences of the words “existentialism,” “insouciance,” and “kluber” in the Fangraphs family are how Cistulli gets paid. It’s just bookkeeping.

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    • Jim says:

      Hadn’t seen your previous posts, evidently this is a running theme. The others make the connection more clear. If you enjoyed The Stranger, I’d highly recommend Sartre’s Nausea. It’s also relatively short, not much over 100 pages. A favorite quote:

      “These are secretaries, office workers, shopkeepers, people who listen to others in cafes: around forty they feel swollen with an experience they can’t get rid of. Luckily they’ve made children on whom they can pass it off. They would like to make us believe that their past is not lost, that their memories are condensed, gently transformed into Wisdom. Convenient past! Past handed out of a pocket! Little gilt books full of fine sayings. “Believe me, I’m telling you from experience, all I know I’ve learned from life.” Has life endeavored to think for them? They explain the new by the old—and the old they explain by the older still, like those historians who turn a Lenin into a Russian Robespierre, and a Robespierre into a French Cromwell: when all is said and done, they have never understood anything at all… You can imagine a morose idleness behind their importance: they see the long parade of pretenses, they yawn. They think there’s nothing new under the sun… When you want to understand something, you stand in front of it, alone, without help: all the past in the world is of no use. Then it disappears and what you wanted to understand disappears with it… Professionals and even amateurs always end up by being right. Their wisdom prompts them to make the least possible noise, to live as little as possible, to let themselves be forgotten. Their best stories are about the rash and the original, who were chastised… The truth stares me in the face: this man is going to die soon. He surely knows; he need only look in the glass: each day he looks a little more like the corpse he will become. That’s what their experience leads to, that’s why I tell myself so often that they smell of death: it is their last defense. The doctor would like to believe, he would like to hide out the stark reality; that he is alone, without gain, without a past, with an intelligence which is clouded, a body which is disintegrating.”

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  7. I’ll have to check out Sartre next. I just finished The Fall, which I actually didn’t enjoy as much as The Stranger. This column replaces the Kicking Rocks columns on here. I had to come with a name, and it was either this or like Zen and the Art of Baseball Maintenance–though I’m not really an existentialist or a Buddhist or actually anything. Basically these columns will be totally random and meaningless and absurd, so I figured the name fit.

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  8. Jim says:

    A good way to understand existentialism is in opposition to theories that conceive of the world as a product of natural law. The point is that all attempts to define the world in terms of natural law by definition infer that what is a certain way, ought to be that way: it IS because reason made it as such. This is in direct contradiction to our current scientific understanding of our creation – that the world as we know it has come about through natural selection, a process devoid of moral content. We are not crafted as a mirror of some ideal form, as Aristotle tells us. Instead, we are the product of a series of events started by molecules arbitrarily colliding and carried through by continued replication of these molecules, our DNA. From this viewpoint, the idea of natural law becomes absurd. Our existence doesn’t confer any moral requirement defining how we should live. Meaning does not exist in a vacuum – we give meaning to our lives through our perspective, and our choices. If our lives have no inherent meaning, we are free to create meaning in any form we see fit. David Foster Wallace’s excellent commencement address, “This is Water” does a very good job explaining how this idea relates to our lives. Merely living the way we are “supposed to” is living in denial of your own existence.

    Applied to baseball, I think a great example is Hunter Pence, who does absolutely nothing the way players are supposed to. Pence achieves authenticity by rejecting our notions of what he should be, instead choosing to play as he is, in his own unique style. Like Nietzsche’s Ubermench, Pence is master of his destiny, a force able to overcome the norms of natural law.

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    • I had just finished Infinite Jest before reading The Fall. That’s a novel which I find myself thinking about even more now that I’ve finished. I love what you wrote about Pence–he’s a gem. He said another guy coming up in the Houston system threw like him and they got him to throw over the top which ruined his shoulder, so they let Pence keep throwing from his hip. I can’t believe how good his arm is given the way he throws.

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  9. Thank you. That and reading the Brothers K are my biggest accomplishments in life.

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