Well, I did it again! I moved Salazar back into my sleepers for a second year in a row. I was burned last year, badly. I took him in the 6th round of my keeper league, and then watched him throw 91mph meatballs for a quite a few starts. If you were like me, your team ERA skyrocketed and it took everything you had to get it back down. I was streaming relievers left and right to control my ratios from that point forward.
So far this spring, his strikeouts vs. walks are sitting pretty. But, he has been getting crushed by leaving the ball over the plate. Salazar met with Skipper Terry Francona on March 27th and was told that he would start the year in AAA Columbus. This is good and bad for fantasy purposes. The good: He can get into a groove and make the Big League rotation by May. The bad: He loses all confidence and doesn't make it up until after All-Star break, killing his value. We have confidence in his ability to bounce back.
So what happened last year? Salazar had a late start to spring training, and he never quite got going. He didn't build up his arm strength by the time opening day came around. The 96mph fastball was reduced to 91-93mph, and he lost a tick on both his slider and changeup. The reason that he was a sleeper in the first place was because of his high K-potential that we saw at the end of 2013.
During the beginning of the year, he was absolutely pummeled and didn't make it through the order more than twice. If you had him, like me, you watched many 4 2/3 IP with 4-5 ERs, 3-5 BB's, and 6-7 K's. After quite a few starts like this, Salazar was sent to the minors to get it figured out. He had an injured triceps, but that wasn't the reason for his struggles. He figured it out in AAA and came back up in the 2nd half, flashing that 96mph heater. He was lights out, but still had some normal rookie struggles. I found a few reasons as to why he struggled.
Salazar's success lies solely in his change in velocity between his changeup and fastball. A 96mph fastball, followed by an 84mph changeup with great vertical and horizontal movement was deadly for him. A 92mph fastball with an 83mph changeup, not so much. That explains his problems with getting through the order multiple times. Pitchers throw to 4-quadrants, at varying speeds. This matrix is well known and is followed by most scouts. If you are able to change speeds, and locate in multiple quadrants, you don't have to throw 96mph. Salazar's location was good, but the movement on his slider and changeup was minimal. He was getting lower swinging rates out of the zone.
If batters don't have to worry about getting blown away with a 96mph fastball, then they can sit fastball, and adjust off-speed a lot easier. An 8mph difference is a lot easier to adjust to than an 11mph difference. Early in games, pitchers tend to save their changeups for the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. They are taught to get ahead with the fastball, and they put you away with a slider. Salazar did just that. He got ahead with the fastball, and his slider was good enough to get through the order. Once the batters are used to a fastball/slider combination, that's when a pitcher drops the changeup. Well, the 2nd time through the order, Salazar did just that. But the velocity difference wasn't enough to full hitter, and his slider wasn't good enough to get chases. That led to batters sitting fastballs, and then punishing him by the 4th inning.
Once he came back with the gas, he was more effective. His walk rates were under control, especially for a guy his age. He also combines that with over a strikeout per inning. To me, that is a guy I want on my team in 2015. Monitor his spring training, but we don't see a problem drafting him if he can work up to 94mph by the time spring training ends. Here is the best news, people soured on him after he destroyed ratios early and banished him to the wire. They think he should just be a reliever. I, personally, have a differing opinion. You can get Salazar for the price of a high-end #5 that can produce high-end #2 stats in 2015. Keep sleeping on him.