Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cleveland Indians @ Tampa Bay Rays, 1:10 PM ET
CLE: Danny Salazar (5.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 7 K – 94 pitches, 52 strikes, 21 BF vs. CHW on 4/8)
TBR: Chris Archer (Season: 10.0 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 4 HR, 5 BB, 17 K. Last start: 5.0 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 HR, 2 BB, 5 K – 97 pitches, 60 strikes, 25 BF vs. BAL on 4/8)

Rob Carr & Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Rob Carr & Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Last time Danny Salazar was graced with comprising half of the Pitching Matchup of the Day selection, Mother Nature spoiled his outing before the Boston Red Sox offense had their shot at him, and both he and Boston’s Joe Kelly were pushed back a day from their scheduled April 7 starts (Kelly would go on to be demolished by Toronto the next day). Fortunately for Salazar, his new opponent was far less dangerous than the one Kelly was unfortunately blessed with, and perhaps also less dangerous than the Red Sox offense that had scored 12 runs in the first two games of the series against Cleveland’s top arms Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

Salazar parlayed the (relatively) fortunate circumstances into a solid season-opening outing in which he worked 5.1 innings against the Chicago White Sox, allowing just two hits and a walk while also hitting a batter. The only run of Salazar’s outing came off of a Todd Frazier solo shot with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning. In the fifth inning he allowed a two-out single to Austin Jackson, which along with Frazier’s blast made up the only two hits the White Sox would muster against Salazar, and two of their three on the day.

Salazar’s best weapon is his fastball, which comes as no surprise, as it consistently registers in the high-to-mid 90’s with great run coming from his three-quarters arm slot. Salazar throws two types of fastballs; a four-seamer and a two-seamer (or sinker, depending on which pitch database you ask). Both fastballs are nearly identical in velocity, with the four-seamer averaging 95.8 mph and the two-seamer averaging 95.5 in his first outing of the season. The two-seamer has more movement, both horizontally and vertically, but the four-seamer was the pitch giving batters fits on Friday afternoon.

Of the 55 four-seamers Salazar offered to Chicago hitters, 27 elicited a swing from the hitter, and 14 times did those swings come up empty, good for a 25.5 percent swing-and-miss rate. The best part about that stat is that Salazar wasn’t spotting these pitches particularly nicely – he just used his excellent velocity and natural running movement to miss Chicago bats:

Just twice was the pitch put in play, and only once was it for a hit — the Frazier home run — which came on a belt-high, slightly middle-away 0-2 offering which Frazier turned on and muscled out of the ballpark at 102.2 mph.

Salazar’s two-seamer was effective, but in a different way, as he threw 14 of 20 pitches for strikes and induced five in-play outs; four on the ground and one in the air. Of the twelve off-speed pitches Salazar mixed in (four sliders, eight splitters), none were put in play, and just one was swung at and missed (for a strikeout of Avisail Garcia). In fact, just two of those twelve pitches were strikes (both were splitters — or changeups, according to the graphic):

So, while Salazar’s fastballs were supremely effective in his debut, the off-speed pitches were little more than show-me offerings, threatening hitters not to gear up for the fastballs lest he change things up on them. Like his fastballs, Salazar’s off-speed pitches have downright nasty movement, so if he can command them better in the future he may find himself having outings even more successful than this.

Chris Archer started his season on a bittersweet note, striking out twelve Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day but also allowing three runs (two earned) off of five hits and three walks. After the first batter of the new MLB season, Kevin Pillar, grounded out, Archer allowed a single and a walk in succession, then allowed both runners to advance on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, Edwin Encarnacion drove in the first runs of the year with a two-RBI single up the middle. Archer would then walk Troy Tulowitzki before ending the eventful half-inning with back-to-back punchouts. In the fourth inning, the leadoff runner reached on a Logan Morrison error and scored on back-to-back Toronto singles, which prompted Archer to neatly finish his day with five consecutive strikeouts.

Archer’s second outing of the year ended on a markedly more bitter note, positively devoid of sweetness, as the Rays’ 27-year-old ace surrendered six runs (all earned) on ten hits over five innings; recording five strikeouts and two walks. Despite Chris Davis sending the first pitch of the second inning 402 feet out to center field and a wild pitch allowing Davis to score on a Matt Wieters single in the fourth, Archer entered the fifth inning behind by just one run. From there, all hell broke loose, and the Orioles sent nine men to the plate in the inning, with three of those men — Jonathan Schoop, Nolan Reimold, and Manny Machado — launching solo home runs. To add insult and injury, the aforementioned Wieters ripped a line drive that ricocheted off of Archer into no-man’s-land, plating another run.

Archer is primarily a two-pitch guy, leaning heavily on his mid-90s four-seam fastball and heavy high-80’s slider. In today’s MLB, the two-pitch starter is a relative rarity, with most pitchers featuring at least three different offerings. However, Archer succeeds as a two-pitch guy, thanks large in part to the general nastiness of his two best pitches. Unfortunately, when things aren’t going with one of the other, it’s easy to get burned by major-league hitters.

So far this season, Archer’s fastball has been nothing special, generating just eight whiffs on 113 tracked pitches, good for 7.08 percent, down quite a bit from the 8.97 percent he tallied last season. Plus, of the sixteen fastballs put in play by opposing hitters this season, half have failed to record an out (as in, they resulted in a base hit or ROE). The batted-ball issue is even greater for the slider, which has failed to record an out on eight of 11 balls put in play this year. Thankfully for Archer, the slider hasn’t had too much of an issue inducing swings-and-misses, as he’s already racked up 19 whiffs in 99 pitches.

As for Archer’s latest outing, the obvious issue was the home runs. Often time, when you’re giving up lots of longballs, it’s from leaving pitches up in the zone. Over the course of Archer’s outing against the Orioles, that was surely the case, as he was far too often working in the middle of the strike zone:

It was no different with the four pitches hit for home runs – all were left elevated and easily launched into the seats:

I have no doubt that Archer will return to form sooner or later — as most analytics folks will tell you, results of balls batted into play are more dependent on the defense than the pitcher, and often you just need to get lucky — hope your opponent doesn’t “hit ’em where they ain’t.” It’s reasonable to assume that the astronomical .478 BABIP opponents currently own against Archer will go down and his results will improve. However, taking himself back to ace performance will require a few adjustments, but nothing a veteran like Archer shouldn’t be able to handle.

This will be a huge game for Archer in terms of making his first step back after a so-so debut and horrendous follow-up appearance. As the old saying goes — “two’s a fluke, three’s a streak” — and Archer would rather not make it a streak of sub-par starts to open his season. Salazar, however, would surely be quite pleased with a couple “flukes” to begin his year, hoping for a strong follow-up to his doubly-delayed debut on April 8.

Honorable Mentions:

Detroit Tigers @ Pittsburgh Pirates, 12:35 PM ET: Jordan Zimmermann vs. Gerrit Cole – Jordan Zimmermann makes his return to the National League for the first time with the Tigers. Zimmermann tossed seven two-hit innings with three strikeouts and three walks in his season opener. The Pirates’ young flamethrower Gerrit Cole takes the bump after lasting just 4.2 innings in his season debut, allowing three runs off of five hits, three walks, and four punchouts.

New York Yankees @ Toronto Blue Jays, 7:07 PM ET: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Marcus Stroman – Despite averaging nearly 98 mph with his fastball, the Yankee’s Nathan Eovaldi was tagged for five runs off six hits (two home runs) in his season debut, picking up seven strikeouts in the process. Marcus Stroman dazzled on Opening Day but was less impressive against the Red Sox last time out, allowing five runs on six hits and three walks, striking out four over 5.1 innings of work.

About The Author

Matt Wojciak is a 20-year-old senior at St. Joseph's College of Maine, studying for a degree in Accounting. He is a lifelong Red Sox fan, born and raised in southern New Hampshire, with much of his extended family residing in South Boston. If you're a fan of quantity and not quality, be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @mwojciak21.

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