Since returning from Columbus, Danny Salazar has been surprisingly effective, going 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 13 strikeouts against just three walks in 12 innings of work.
The success comes as a surprise due to the fact that Salazar wasn’t exactly tearing it up in Triple-A. In his final three starts in the minors, Salazar walked 14 batters in 17 2/3 innings.
But Salazar has been more aggressive since returning to the majors, challenging hitters in the strike zone to get ahead in counts and then putting them away with his powerful fastball.
The most telling statistic for Salazar has been his performance in 1-1 counts. Prior to his demotion, Salazar was throwing the ball in the zone just 48.1% per of the time in 1-1 counts. As a result, 38% of Salazar’s 1-1 counts, turned into 2-1 counts.
Since his return, Salazar is throwing the ball in the zone 75% of the time on 1-1 counts, resulting in just 12.5% of those 1-1 counts turning into 2-1 counts.
Due the fact that Salazar is challenging hitters in the zone on a more consistent basis, since his return 57% of his plate appearances have ended in a pitcher’s count, compared to just 43% prior to his demotion.
How much does this matter?
Looking at the season as a whole, Salazar has allowed a .541 average in at-bats ending in a hitter’s count—the worst rate in the majors (min. 10 starts).
The reason for this couldn’t be more simple: Salazar doesn’t have the confidence in his off-speed pitchers to get hitters out in hitters count.
In hitter’s counts this season, Salazar has thrown his fastball 94.1% of the time—the highest rate in the majors. And when major league hitters know the fastball is coming, even if it’s coming at 98 miles per hours, they’re not intimidated. But in pitcher’s counts, Salazar’s fastball usage drops to 62.8%—still higher than average, but enough to keep hitters guessing.
So while there are plenty of reasons to remain skeptical about Salazar’s ability to perform at an elite level in the major leagues, his more aggressive approach and his newfound ability to work ahead in the count may allow him to succeed at the back end of the rotation for the remainder of the 2014 season.