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Orbiting Cleveland: Salazar, Carrasco and Path Dependency

Salazar's debut, Carrasco's struggles analyzed in Orbiting Cleveland

Orbiting Cleveland: Salazar, Carrasco and Path Dependency
Orbiting Cleveland
July 12, 2013
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Unfortunately for IBI readers and fortunately for Steve Orbanek, he is being taken off the market for good this weekend and, for these two weeks, Orbiting Cleveland. So as we wish the great Orbanek a perfect wedding and a better honeymoon, I will digress to the Indians rotation, specifically the Indians collection of guys who have hovered between Columbus and Cleveland.

Obviously the Indians' rotation is one that could be in flux over the next month as they seek to make a deadline deal for a mid-rotation starter or better with some long term control.

However, when looking at the Indians long term window it is clear that finding at least one above average starter from Bauer, Carrasco, and Salazar is an absolute necessity.

Each pitcher represents a young controllable starter who has above average stuff and the markings of what scouts slobber over, but there is among them a lot of differentiation which has manifested itself at the big league level.

In terms of getting down to it I suppose we must begin with the man of the hour, Danny Salazar.

Perhaps alliteration like “Salazar sparkles” is cliché but really any positive adjective cannot overstate the pump in the arm this performance was for the Indians.

Needless to say as merely a consumer of good baseball for entertainment value Salazar’s efficiency and stuff were worth the price of admission even if that admission was just MLB.TV.

While using a single game for a pitcher is haphazard and irrational, it is possible to draw a few preliminary conclusions about a collection of things including: makeup, capability and ability to sustain.

In terms of makeup, it is hard to imagine being more impressed by a pitcher’s poise and general focus than a viewer would be when watching Salazar. As a merely mediocre or perhaps worse high school baseball player I of course imagined or more aptly dreamt of an opportunity to play at a high stage.

Dreaming, however cannot prepare you for your first start and while one dreams about opportunity, once faced with it, it can become easy to be rattled and uncomfortable. In terms of big league debuts the nervousness or lack of comfort usually manifests itself in wildness.

An inability to throw strikes and control the ball inside the zone has been a major issue for Salazar’s up and coming cohorts Carrasco and Bauer. Salazar had no such issues as he continually located early in the count, gained the advantage in counts, and took advantage.

As I said previously, one game does not provide us with the sort of evidence we can use to judge important things like makeup. The most impressive piece about Salazar has been his ability to rebound after his injury and Tommy John surgery.

Simplistically, one can say that for those who wish to make a living playing this beautiful game then working towards recovery is but a job responsibility, a necessity of the baseball life. In broad strokes that is true, nevertheless success as a pitcher at this level takes a certain focus, drive and arrogance believing in your stuff and physical abilities.

Salazar’s arm concerns will take quite some time to dispel even though they are reminiscent of fellow farmhand Carlos Carrasco and perhaps they inevitably lead him to the bullpen, a role which he would be a dominant asset. A need which the Indians' struggles have recently highlighted.

As for the stuff, well for those of you who saw it, talk about fireworks. For a quick rundown, Salazar topped out at 99.8 MPH on his four seam fastball according to Brooks Baseball. Average velocity sat at 95.99 as well, Salazar’s fastball offers solid x and y axis movement with an elevated ability to locate.

When looking at Salazar, two things in particular from this start as well as his season appear to be particularly positive. The first is his ability to succeed against left handers which is directly related to his changeup a plus offering.

Salazar threw 80% of his changeups for strikes against lefties and he forced 40% swings and misses against lefties. Obviously the development of Salazar’s slider will continue to be key but if it can become even an average pitch, combined with his fastball and changeup, both plus offerings, and you have a guy with front of rotation stuff.

What is so interesting about Salazar is that while most fans who follow this site know what sort of potential he has Danny has been relatively underappreciated in the prospect collective.

Of course there are detracting points: the injury history, the challenge of developing a third good pitch. It seems that Salazar snuck up on most, including myself. Salazar’s journey has been a quiet one, unheralded compared to guys like Bauer and Carrasco which when you look at his potential is shocking.

Which is, in all reality, a good thing. While being a highly lauded prospect has its notoriety and benefits, it can be for many an unending burden. Trevor Bauer is the type of guy who seems to be weighed on by his potential.

Alas, he has arrived and with a lot of excitement at that, the greatest determinate for Salazar will obviously be his arm and whether or not it can hold up. The Indians have done an impressive job managing it so far. Compared to Carrasco and Bauer, Salazar looks the most prepared at least mentally and with the stuff nearing equivalence, he is a truly impressive prospect who came from the abyss.

Carrasco and Mentality

Carrasco’s struggles at the big league level this season as well as concerns surrounding his makeup are well documented. Carrasco’s penchant for head hunting being the most highlighted issue in terms of his imbalance on the mound.

Carrasco’s physical tools are unquestioned and in many ways not much has changed in terms of his ceiling or skillset since his acquisition in the Cliff Lee deal. July 29 will be the four year anniversary of the Lee deal and Carrasco remains the last hope for salvaging value.

In 2009, Carrasco bounced between Cleveland and Triple-A with the majority being spent in the International League. Carrasco struggled mightily at both levels and it seemed that he was an unfinished product.

Unfortunately for Carrasco and the Indians not much has changed in the four years as he proves to be continually enigmatic with an inability to establish himself at the big league level.

Outside of a short one month stretch in 2011, Carrasco has shown little in terms of the improvement necessary to be successful at the big league level. Partly because of his head and partly because of his failure to transfer success to the top level.

The failures in Cleveland for Carrasco are most directly tied to his strikeout to walk ratio. Carrasco strikeout rate especially this season is astoundingly low considering the quality of his offerings. In 2011, Carrasco’s K/9 was 6.14, this season, in a limited sample it is 4.71. Strikeout rate for a pitcher like Carrasco is the best indicator of his success and this simply doesn’t cut it.

When one looks further to the BB/9 the indicators look even more concerning. Though Carrasco’s minor league walk rate was manageable, Carlos has been unable to transfer it to the Tribe. This season his BB/9 was above four in Cleveland, but the positive is that these struggles seem to be unsustainable.

Lastly, on Carrasco and partially Bauer, the Tribe’s management of these guys has been lackluster. I understand that during a season where you are trying to push through to the level of contention you must be somewhat brash with the way you manage usage of younger players.

However, the Indians have struggled to do it well. They continually bounce the two up and down which, for two guys who seem so desperately in need of comfort and stability, is simply putting these guys in a situation to fail.

My concerns surrounding Carrasco are strong and I believe that next season should be his last opportunity. Carlos is an immensely talented guy, but to date both injuries and his head have held him back.

The best strategy for Carrasco would be to either let him stay in Columbus for the remainder of its season and start next season anew or to transition him to a back-end arm.

Salazar and Carrasco are both impressive talents and I must admit that this may partially be me being a prisoner of the moment, but because of Salazar’s makeup I really believe that other than innings limitations, he is the better bet moving forward for the Indians rotation.

Interact with Michael by email at and on Twitter @MichaelHattery

User Comments

July 13, 2013 - 1:45 PM EDT
Excellent job on the piece Mike. Thanks for filling in. Salazar best homegrown arm since Carmona? CC even? So much potential.
Michael Hattery
July 13, 2013 - 12:20 PM EDT
Totally legitimate criticisms. I fault myself for over emphasizing the injury concerns as his surgery was the same as Carrasco's and their frames are comparable. In fact when I started writing about it my aim was to avoid it but I was unable to. Also agree that the conventional baseball wisdom about height being a determinant to arm health is ridiculous especially when you talk about how smooth and compact Salazar's delivery is. The only concern/warning sign I was considering was when he had to be shut down for a short stretch this season and then work his pitch count back up because of soreness.
July 13, 2013 - 7:57 AM EDT
Agree, Bauer's stuff isn't as electric when he's pitching from the stretch. He's a smart guy, I'm not immensely concerned about long term. He was rushed up too quickly and needs time to catch up with his own development. Mechanics and control issues have betrayed him. Bauer needs consistency on the mound and from the Tribe. IF he settles in and finds a groove I think he could still fulfill his potential as a #2, but obviously he still needs a lot of work.
Carlos Carrasco has me scratching my head... I really don't know what else to say. Talent and stuff say #2 starter, but his performance says he needs to stay in AAA or face a move to the bullpen. I wouldn't be overly surprised to see him moved as a part of larger trade that brings back SP.
I think the Tribe has to exhaust all possibilities with Danny Salazar remaining a SP. It's easy to see him Salazar as a shutdown closer. Salazar's stuff warrants remaining a SP unless injuries force him to the pen.
Joe Chengery
July 12, 2013 - 11:48 PM EDT
I'll give you two "shorter than ideal," one of which was probably the best pitcher in the Majors the past 20 years: Pedro Martinez. His brother Ramon wasn't much bigger, and he wasn't bad in his own right.

Therefore, until Salazar proves otherwise, if I'm the Indians, Salazar remains a starter. I agree that I think Carrasco should be given one more chance as a starter and give him some stability- if that doesn't work, I would try him as a reliever. It would be better to get something from his arm in any role than not getting anything at all. The only exception is if we can get premium talent in a trade and a team really wanted him in a deal.

As for Bauer, he also needs some stability. Additionally, I'd try to get him to pitch much like he did last year with his delivery and just try to tighten up some things. I'm not sure he's comfortable with his new delivery, and I'm not sure his stuff is as electric either. You definitely don't want to alter his mechanics to the point where he doesn't have the stuff that largely made him an elite prospect.

At the very least, you'd want one frontline start from this trio. Two from this group would be great, and all three would be outstanding. If one or more don't develop as frontline starters (Carrasco by, say, next year, Bauer, I'd give him two more years if needed), however, I'd attempt to turn them into elite relievers unless someone really wants them in an impact trade for us.

Let's hope this trio helps the Tribe for years to come- Go Tribe!
July 12, 2013 - 5:50 PM EDT
The problem is that a handful of the baseball cognoscenti have dictated that pitchers need to be 6' 5" and 225 lbs. and every tom, dick, and harriet baseball scribe follow along like lemmings. Maybe the sabremetrics geeks can do something useful besides alluding to arcane and dubious statistics and do a study regarding pitcher size weight and pitching success. As I recall most of the pitchers in past generations who pitched massive innings with great success were not behemoths. Just how big was bob feller and just how intimidating was bob gibson?

sorry for being a crank... long week.
July 12, 2013 - 5:25 PM EDT
Is there something I am missing with Salazar? Everybody seems to be talking about whether or not his arm can hold up, but was there something extraordinary about his injury that makes him anymore of risk than any other pitchers with TJ surgery in their past? Because in general it seems like it's non factor nowadays whether or not a pitcher had TJ.

Unless it was TJ surgery and I am just completely lost.

Either way I loved watching him pitch, and hope I get to see a lot more of it this season and far into the future. A pitcher who can legit hit 99mph on fastball and locate it. SIGN ME UP.

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