I am really excited that Danny Salazar is going to be starting the wild card game for the Tribe. There are a lot of rookie pitchers that I would be concerned about pitching in a sudden death scenario such as this one. Not Salazar though. Salazar has shown that he likes the pressure, and doesn’t mind the spotlight. There are two breeds of players in every major sport: the players that thrive in high intensity situations when all eyes are on them and the players that shy away from the spotlight and crumble under pressure. I believe Salazar belongs to the first breed of player.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for being a little hesitant about Salazar pitching this game though. Remember, the kid is only 23 years old and has likely never pitched in a game anywhere close to this type of magnitude. A lot of this deals with the psychological aspect of the game, an area in which sabermetricians often either ignore or find difficulty in quantifying. However, here are a few stats that should make us feel good about Salazar starting this game.
With runners on base Salazar has an impressive .232 BAA. What happens to the BAA for Salazar with RISP? The BAA drops to .121. What’s the most pressure filled count in baseball? Most would say it’s the full count. Opposing hitters have exactly one hit against Salazar in 20 AB in at-bats that went to a full count (good for a .083 BAA). According to FanGraphs, against Salazar the opposition has a .167 BAA in high leverage situations. If we want to use precedent, let’s think about any past high-pressure games that Salazar has pitched in. Obviously there’s one that’s going to come to everyone’s mind, and that’s his start against the Tigers on August 7th. He fared brilliantly in this situation against arguably the best offense in the league, until he gave up a game-tying two run homer in the 8th to Miguel Cabrera. In case anyone forgot though, he had struck out Miguel Cabrera, aka the best hitter in baseball, and Prince Fielder a combined 5 times that game, and struck out 10 batters overall.
What does all of this tell us? I think it points toward the fact that Salazar belongs to the breed of player that enjoys and thrives in the spotlight. The statistics above don’t conclusively prove anything due to small sample size, high variability, and proven randomness of the “clutch factor”. However, they do give us a minor insight into the type of competitor Salazar is, and for those of us who have watched him since his debut this season, I think it’s justified to say that this kid is a pretty fierce competitor who can handle the challenge he is about to take on Wednesday.
It’s an amazing time to be a Tribe fan. Everyone’s already excited that we will be at the center of the baseball world on Wednesday on our home turf. I think it makes it a even a little bit more exciting that the baseball world is going to see our young gun, our gem, and our future phenom on one of the biggest and most dramatic stages baseball has to offer. Wow, I can’t wait for postseason baseball to return back to the “216” on Wednesday, and I know the rest of you are right there with me.