There's little subterfuge at work when Cleveland Indians rookie Danny Salazar is on the bump: He's going to try to blow you away with his heat. The 23-year-old righty's minor league career was marred by elbow injuries, but he's healthy and hurling fastballs as hard and as often as any starting pitcher in the game for the Tribe, who enter play today 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Salazar averages 95.7 MPH on the radar gun (second-highest among starters, behind Florida's Nathan Eovaldi) and throws his fastball slightly more than 72% of the time (ninth-highest).
One thing's for sure: When Salazar unleashes a fastball, something explosive is going to happen. He's getting swings and misses with the pitch like no other, but when hitters do connect, they're tagging his fastball due to his work-in-progress command.
Salazar loves to climb the ladder with his fastball, throwing the pitch in the upper third of the strike zone about 48% of the time. Among starters who have thrown at least 400 fastballs this season, just Zach McAllister (51%) and Matt Cain (49%) elevate more often.
Pitch location of Salazar's fastball
High fastballs tend to get far more whiffs (about 23% of the time that hitters swing versus starting pitchers) than middle (11%) or low heat (13%). High-velocity fastballs also make batters come up empty more often (about 19% of the time for 95+ MPH gas) than the overall MLB average (15%). Combine Salazar's tendency to locate upstairs with his nearly unparalleled velocity, and you get the best fastball miss rate in the game.
Highest fastball miss rate among SP (minimum 400 thrown)
You might have noticed something else about Salazar's fastball location, though: He tends to catch a lot of the plate. He has thrown 31% of his fastballs to the horizontal middle of the plate, far higher than the 24% average for starters. Hitters crush fastballs thrown over the fat part of the dish, slugging a collective .507 in 2013.
Salazar's command issues help explain why, despite that lofty miss rate, he has surrendered five homers and allowed batters to slug .449 on his fastball -- above the .434 average for starters. He has been plenty effective through his first seven starts even while throwing the occasional meatball, but Salazar could be downright terrifying if he starts hitting the corners with his high heat.