On Monday night, Danny Salazar pitched two innings, walked two batters and gave up six earned runs to the Minnesota Twins before manager Terry Francona had seen enough. Salazar provided all the usual signs that typically accompany a poor outing: the under his breath muttering, the wide-eyed stare after giving up a home run. From the first batter, a Brian Dozier laser up the gut, you could tell Salazar didn't have it.
That would be fine, except Salazar hasn't had "it" for a month. After posting an absurd 1.91 ERA during the month of June, July was somewhat of a disaster for the Indians' 26-year-old ace. His ERA leapt to 6.14. Opposing batters hit .309 off him and slugged a season-high .484. He struck out just 23 batters in four starts, his lowest total since April when he fanned 26, and posted his lowest K-rate, 23 percent, of the season.
Compound those stats with the fact that the Indians held Salazar out of the 2016 All-Star Game because of "mild elbow discomfort" (vague terminology always gives me pause), and there is a question to be asked of what had been the Indians best starting pitcher as the team primes itself for a deep postseason run: is there something wrong with Danny Salazar?
To answer that question, let's take a look at a few statistics that should be able to provide us with some better insight. If Salazar's elbow is indeed bothering him more than he or the team is letting on, one might assume that his velocity would be negatively affected.
Well, that's not a great start. Ok, so his velocity is down a tick or two. And his home runs given up per nine innings for the month of July is way up, sitting at 1.64. It was 0.48 in May. And then there's this:
To limit this post from sounding too much like the doomsday alarm, here's a final concerning statistic. According to Baseball Prospectus's Pitch/Fx data, in the month of July, hitters were whiffing on just 19.28 percent of their swings when Salazar threw his fourseam fastball, the lowest percentage of the season and the first time its dipped under 20 percent. That's that man's bread and butter.
So maybe Salazar does have legitimate elbow issues. He's getting an MRI on Tuesday morning, so we'll know more then. A brief DL stint, if an injury is indeed the case, could serve Salazar well. Or maybe Salazar's simply experiencing a tired arm in the midst of a humid summer. He is only 68 innings shy of his total innings pitched from 2015, after all.
Perhaps Salazar has just run into some incredibly bad luck, too. His BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, hit an absurdly high .373 in the month of July, meaning almost 40 percent of baseballs hit in play against him wound up as hits. That's just awful luck, something that should reverse itself as we turn the page to August.
So should you be worried about Danny Salazar? It's reasonable to answer that question with a yes. For the Indians sake, let's hope an extended trip to the disabled list isn't the result of what's been a brutal month for one of the Indians best young pitchers.