Six weeks ago Danny Salazar was such a complete mess that he didn’t even make it to the final spring training cuts. Now he’s among the most unhittable pitchers in all of baseball.
So what happened?
Speaking to MLB.com (via CBS Sports), Salazar attributed some of his success to his curveball which he has worked into his repertoire.
But the most noticeable difference has been his approach in two-strike counts.
While it’s obviously early, Salazar is currently baseballs most dominant pitcher in two-strike counts, generating a strikeout in 59.3% of all plate appearances that reach two strikes – narrowly edging out Clayton Kershaw, who sits at 56 percent.
While Salazar has always been a strikeout pitcher, the improvement can be attributed to his changeup – an odd statement for someone known as a power pitcher.
In 20 starts in 2014, Salazar relied heavily on his fastball as his putaway pitch, throwing it in 62 percent of two-strike counts. He used the changeup (which he calls a split-change) 23 percent of the time.
So far in 2015 his changeup usage has risen to 48 percent in two-strike counts, and it has become baseball’s most deadly putaway pitch.
The table to the right shows the best putaway pitches in baseball, based on their “putaway rate.”
I’ve been writing about putaway rates since 2010 when ESPN’s Mark Simon coined the term. It’s calculated by taking the number of strikeouts recorded with a pitch and dividing it by the number of times it’s thrown in two-strike counts.
To date, Salazar has a putaway rate of 41 percent with his changeup – the best putaway rate among pitches thrown at least 50 times this season.
Salazar’s approach has been to keep the changeup low in the zone to induce a swing either resulting in a whiff or weak contact.
Of Salazar’s 32 strikeouts with the changeup, 30 of them have been swings and misses.
So is this recent dominance here to stay?
Probably not at this rate, but it’s possible he can sustain a portion of this success.
Salazar has gone from attacking hitters with power in two-strike counts to keeping them guessing with a 50/50 split of fastballs and changeups.
Right now, they’re thrown off. They’ve faced him for two years as a power pitcher and he’s evolved into something more.
Hitters will definitely adjust and the putaway rate will drop down slightly, but having two equally effective putaway pitches – especially with varying speeds – is a deadly weapon.