Indians Starting Pitching Remains Enigmatic: Rays beat Indians, 6-4

On a warm night with a breeze blowing out to right field Danny Salazar once again struggled with keeping the ball in Progressive Field. Strikeouts came in bunches—as usual—for Salazar as he collected nine in five innings, but five solo home runs proved lethal.

Despite what is a really strong arsenal, Salazar continues to struggle with commanding the ball over the plate, allowing numerous strikes to sit in the center of the plate. The Tampa Bay Rays took advantage, using those long balls to ultimately top the Indians, 6-4.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The arsenal is outstanding, the HR/FB % is likely unsustainably high compared to his career norms despite even his proclivity to allowing home runs. The .383 BABIP against is also unfathomably high and will ultimately decline over the course of the season but the reality of Salazar is ultimately disappointing.

Salazar has perhaps the best split-change in all of baseball, and a plus fastball. A mediocre third offering and average command would make him a multi-time All-Star-caliber starter. Yet, despite the competence of Salazar’s third offering a decent slurve, he lacks the command and confidence in his mix to become what we all once believed he would be. Perhaps most irritating about the beginning of Salazar and Bauer’s seasons is that each is enormously talented with an arsenal that pitchers like Josh Tomlin dream of, yet they remain completely unable to harness their offerings to become the pitchers they could be. As variance is sampled out and we see more starts Salazar and Bauer will improve on an outcome basis, but the inescapable frustration will continue be what could have been for each starter.

Edwin Encarnacion’s early foibles 

Encarnacion added a beautifully struck home run on Tuesday night along with more quality contact, but concerns remain over the large contract slugger with the .701 OPS. There are a few reasons for optimism as well as some legitimate aging concerns.  Encarnacion’s strikeout rate is astoundingly high at 27.5 percent compared to a career strikeout rate of 16.5 percent. This comes off the highest strikeout rate of his career with a significant increase. This second spike is concerning but the underlying causes are complex.

Encarnacion has the best O-swing% of his career which means that the strikeout increase is not grounded in declining plate discipline or impatience. However, significant decline in zone contact and the amount of pitches in the zone is forcing Encarnacion to adjust. Encarnacion is seeing a career low in fastballs and an increase in both sliders and changeups to staggering degree.

The strikeout rate is certainly a justified concern regarding Encarnacion’s aging skill set but the inputs would point to pitchers taking a radically different approach to pitching to him which will require adjustments by the hitter. Encarnacion is seeing seven percent fewer strikes than he has seen his entire career and completely different mix of pitches. For a player with Encarnacion’s history of success and capability to make adjustments, patience with said adjustments is important and well earned.

Quick notes:

  • Bradley Zimmer has not rocked a strikeout rate below 30 percent in a couple of seasons and it will undoubtedly be a significant part of his big league profile. While some mitigation of his K-rate is possible, his power/athleticism/positional value combination will simply have to outweigh his contact issues.
  • Terry Francona has been fairly creative of late with his lineup construction, which I certainly enjoy, but Jose Ramirez, one of the Indians three best hitters batting sixth makes no sense to me.