As formulas for successful pitchers go, missing bats with strikes is a pretty good one. At the extreme end of the spectrum, it can signal dominance. At the very least, it offers a full-count fail-safe. To wit, the ability to avoid contact in the zone is generally related to the level of success a pitcher can expect when the situation calls for him to throw a strike. However, there were some notable exceptions last season. Even by metrics that drill down to assess performance by the quality of contact allowed -- in this case, expected weighted on-base average, or xwOBA, an advanced metric from Statcast™ -- several starters underperformed compared to peers who demonstrated similar skills. These three hurlers possessed the raw stuff to suppress contact far more often than the average Major League starter, but they found their results lacking. Diagnosing how their seemingly promising equations went awry might hint at where they'll land going forward. Danny Salazar, Indians RHP Salazar posted eye-popping swinging-strike rates and contact rates while recording an injury-shortened season that didn't quite match his recent performances. One of Cleveland's many rotation weapons, the soon-to-be 28-year-old still looked the part of a strikeout king, collecting whiffs on 17.3 percent of his offerings in the zone -- an elite rate among starters. His changeup is devastating, averaging 86.6 mph in 2017, to play off a four-seam fastball that averaged 95.3 mph. The issue for Salazar appears to be a two-seam fastball that, while reaching nearly the same velocity as the four-seamer, isn't as effective. The pitch curiously gained more emphasis within his repertoire in 2017. Specifically, the two-seamer took a much larger role when Salazar was working with runners on. Perhaps seeking more ground balls, the two-seamer got 27.8 percent of that work compared to 13.1 percent in '16. While it can be dangerous to overthink a pitcher's results with runners on base, it is worth noting a gaping split when his pitch mix seems to hold the answer. Opposing hitters slugged .663 against Salazar's two-seamer overall, and .946 with runners on. They benefited from some luck in doing so, but the .456 overall xwOBA against the pitch still placed it among the five hardest-struck two-seamers thrown at least 150 times. The good news is Salazar also emphasized his dominant changeup, which he places near the bottom of the zone consistently, and he increasingly leaned on it as his injury-interrupted campaign went on.
3 starters with potential to become aces
MLB.com | Jan 28