Can Danny Salazar Save the Cleveland Indians' Maligned Rotation?
It wasn't too long ago that Cleveland Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes proclaimed that the Indians had no shot of winning the World Series.
Then don't bother showing up the rest of the way... Can write from home if you already know how this one plays out! https://t.co/RmjFCQeAcB
— Jason Kipnis (@TheJK_Kid) September 18, 2016
I notice @hoynsie wasn't at the game today doing his job like the rest of us were. To say what he did then not show up for work? #coward
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) September 18, 2016
Often times, pitching is the great equalizer in the World Series, and losing two of your horses can be difficult to overcome. It doesn't appear that Carrasco can make it back after suffering a fractured wrist, but positive news out of Cleveland is that Salazar may be able to return in time to pitch in the World Series, perhaps out of the bullpen or even a starter.
But how good has Salazar been, and what kind of impact could he have?
One of the Best Around
Salazar has suffered a few injuries in 2016 and has been limited to only 137 1/3 innings pitched so far this season.
Salazar threw a career-high 191 professional innings in 2015, 185 of which were at the Major League level. Those 30 starts he made showcased he was one of the league's elite in many categories.
|Season||Innings Pitched||K Rate %||BB Rate %||SIERA||Hard Hit Rate %|
In 2015, Salazar's strikeout rate placed him 12th amongst qualified starters in the league (78 total), and he ranked 20th in SIERA.
In 2016, perhaps due to the injuries or the heavier workload from the previous year, Salazar seems to have regressed a bit. While his strikeout rate is up, both his walk rate and hard hit rates are up, leading to a SIERA that, had he had enough innings pitched to qualify, would have ranked him a respectable 25th (of 73 qualified pitchers).
Even with a slight step back in 2016, Salazar is one of the better starters in the league, and the Indians have been without him so far in the postseason. His return could be a huge shot in the arm.
Current State of Affairs
The current Indians rotation for the World Series has been announced. Through the first three games, it appears to be the trio of ace Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin.
Our #WorldSeries rotation:
Gm 1 Tuesday: Kluber
Bauer and Tomlin will start Games 2 and 3, with order TBD Tuesday. #RallyTogether pic.twitter.com/dSLoNeb43u
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 23, 2016
After Kluber starts Game 1, the rotation becomes a little murkier, thanks to Bauer's crazy drone-fixing finger that was nearly sliced off.
Tomlin suffered through a horrific August, allowing 21 extra-base hits to 132 batters faced for a .452 wOBA and a 45.7% hard contact rate. That led to his getting benched before a September return to the rotation, perhaps out of pure necessity due to injury. He was then lights-out, firing 26 2/3 innings over the last two months (including the playoffs) with a .229 wOBA against.
One option for Game 4 of the Series could be Ryan Merritt, who threw a series-clinching gem in Toronto. However, Merritt has pitched only 11 innings at the Major League level.
The Indians' rotation could get a big lift from the return of Salazar. While it's unclear in what capacity he will be returning, it's clear that the Indians' bullpen has given them a huge edge this postseason, and while they have been fantastic, it's partly been out of necessity.
In an ideal situation, Salazar could return presumably as the Game 4 starter. Even Bauer's health is still somewhat up in the air, as he received an extra suture from hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham to aid in healing. If somehow Bauer has another setback, this injury-ravaged unit will need Salazar's return even more.
Salazar has been one of the best starting pitchers in the league, when healthy, over the last two seasons, and everyone not named Corey Kluber has some serious question marks heading into Game 1 Tuesday evening.
While we still see the Cubs as 63% favorites to win the whole thing and end their lengthy drought, a return from Salazar could be just what the doctor ordered to bring a title to Cleveland.