Danny Salazar | 2014 Potential Fantasy Sleeper

Finding valuable players in the later rounds of drafts is crucial. I analyze the previous year to find potentially undervalued players statistically each year. Generating that list is less about scouting and more about a player’s production during limited time last year. For pitchers, the methodology focuses mainly on finding pitchers who can command a strike zone, generate lots of strikeouts and limit their walks. This year, there are potentially three pitchers who meet my criteria and I’ll be analyzing one of them, Danny Salazar (CLE), today to see why he may or may not be a deep fantasy sleeper this year.

Why He’s Here

Danny Salazar was signed to the Indians organization as an international free agent when he was just a teenager. Hailing from the Dominican Republic, he made his minor league debut at 17 years old. Over seven minor league seasons, he was dominant aside from a hiccup during his two seasons in Single-A ball. As he went through the ranks, he actually became more and more of a strikeout artist but his sudden dominance in 2013 was a bit of a surprise regardless. He had increased his K/9 at every level of the minors which finally culminated with a 11.8 K/9 in Triple-A last year. The Indians called him up in July and he continued that lethal combination of high strikeout rates with low walk rates as he put together great numbers over 10 starts.

Age ’14 ADP ’13 IP ’13 ERA ’13 WHIP ’13 K/9 ’13 BB/9 ’13 SIERRA ’13 BABIP
24 210.3 52 3.12 1.13 11.3 2.6 2.72 .298

How will Salazar fare now that teams have already seen a bit of him? Can he continue those dominating numbers in 2014? It may be worth a flier to find out either way given his low draft position because if he even sniffs those 2013 numbers then he is worth way more than the 210th overall pick.

Why He Might Fail

It’s not all good with Salazar as there are quite a few warning signs of an upcoming regression. His 13.7% HR/FB rate from last year is concerning due to the fact that he is an extreme flyball pitcher (only a 34.4% GB rate). However, if you subscribe to theories surrounding DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics) then you may know that HR/FB rates are generally found to not be predictive and are largely a factor of luck so we may see this number regress a bit for Salzar.

Another major concern for Salazar is the mystery surrounding his sudden increase in strikeouts. In 2012, he threw 24 strikeouts over 34 innings of Double-A ball then more than doubled that in 2013 over the same stretch of Double-A innings. He had shown hints of promise prior to that but his double-digit K/9 rate didn’t appear until 2013. Was it that he didn’t fully recover from his Tommy John surgery until then (yes, he went under the knife early in his career)? It’s hard to say but how can we trust a guy who has only been a strikeout king for less than 150 IP of his career?

For roto players, he has one other big mark against him. Salazar rarely goes deep into games. He averaged 5 IP per start in the majors last season and his minor league numbers paint the same story. Only in one of his 10 starts did he go more than 6 IP last year. The reason this affects roto players is it may affect his ability to generate high Win numbers and affects his overall strikeout totals. Striking out a batter per inning isn’t quite as valuable if Salazar can only accumulate 150 IP on the year.

Why He Might Come Through

On Twitter, I mentioned a few factoids about Salazar and compared him to Yu Darvish in some ways.

Danny Salazar had the highest percentage of swinging strikes created among SP’s in 2013 and third lowest Contact%. The dude is hard to hit.
— Mr. Cheatsheet (@mrcheatsheet) March 3, 2014

It may seem like a crazy comparison but Salazar’s small sample size in 2013 looks a bit like Darvish if you look at the Swinging Strike rates, Contact rates, Walk rates and even Flyball rates. I’m not saying Salazar will perform to that level but it lets you know how high his ceiling could be. More reasonably, we should expect some regression from 2013. Teams will be seeing him for a second time and have more tape on him in hopes of figuring him out. He’s still got a nasty fastball but he’ll have to make adjustments and that will end up defining what type of pitcher he is in 2014.


High strikeout pitchers who can control their walk rates are rare and should be highly coveted in fantasy baseball. With apologies to the Bartolo Colons of the world who can survive with a low K rate, fantasy championships are won by having high strikeout pitchers and this is especially true for Points leagues. Salazar represents a risk in 2014 because he’s an unknown commodity but his draft price is low so it’s a risk that won’t burn you. I’d invest in him as an arm off the bench in roto leagues and as a possible low-end starter with high potential in Points leagues.

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