Fernando Salas may not be the most exciting member of the Angels bullpen but he proved to be a major reason the relief corps turned things around last season. Is he ready for a bigger role in 2015?
What happened in 2014?
When the Angels made their move to land David Freese to be their new starting third baseman, Jerry Dipoto went out of his way to acquire reliever Fernando Salas as part of the package. This move of “hey, why don’t you throw in that reliever you don’t really like because I actually like him a lot” turns out to be something of a Dipoto trademark.
What Dipoto saw was an underrated reliever who had been inconsistent in his MLB career due to non-major, but non-trivial, arm problems and an extreme flyball profile. Perhaps more importantly than that, Salas also had options left. That was a big part of Dipoto’s master plan to have a seven-man bullpen that was really a nine-man bullpen because he was just going to keep shuttling guys between Anaheim and Salt Lake. Gotta get those frequent flyer miles!
Dipoto’s keen eye paid off as Salas returned to the form of a low-walk, high-strikeout rate reliever that he was back in 2011 when Salas moonlighted as the Cardinals closer. The home run problems lingered, as anyone who watched the ALDS no doubt remembers, and Fernando had an exceptionally difficult time preventing inherited baserunners from scoring, but otherwise he was everything Dipoto could have hoped for.
The only lingering concern going forward with Fernando Salas is that he once again missed a little bit of time with shoulder problems. The issues he had this year were minor and seemed almost to be more of an excuse to shuffle him down to Triple-A, but still, the arm problems are becoming chronic.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only “meh”)
What do the projections think he will do in 2015?
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of variation in the projections for Salas. His inconsistent track record results in inconsistent projections. Steamer is clearly down on him the most and CAIRO clearly favors a scenario in which the Salas of 2014 was the true Salas. The good news is that none of the systems foresee the issues with walks that derailed his 2012 campaign returning. However, they also don’t believe in his suddenly elevated strikeout rate either. Oh, and homers. There will be homers.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Well, clearly I agree with ZiPS. It was entirely unintentional, but my projection is almost exactly the same, only I think he’ll log more innings. Salas is a solid pitcher, but he isn’t as good as he was last year, but he also isn’t as bad as he was the year before. He is pretty much the quintessential example of relief pitchers being volatile assets.
THREE OPEN QUESTIONS FOR FERNANDO SALAS IN 2015
1) Why is Salas allergic to inherited runners?
It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Salas is kind of hittable, but allowing 9 of 12 inherited runners is flat out absurd. Clearly there is bad luck involved there, but it ain’t all bad luck. In fact, it is pretty damning that he only was allowed to inherit 12 runners, with most of those coming early in the season.
Maybe Scioscia overreacted to the results or maybe he saw something in Salas’s approach, but he avoided using Salas as a mid-inning replacement in high leverage situations as much as possible. My guess is that it is more of an approach issue. Salas has good control, but not great command. As such, when he enters high leverage situations he worries too much about walking a guy and catches too much of the strike zone as a result. But that’s just a guess. I could be and probably am totally wrong.
2) What should Fernando’s role be in the bullpen this year?
The best thing Fernando Salas has going for him is his platoon splits. For his career, he has allowed a .287 wOBA to lefties and a .287 wOBA to righties. His strikeout and walk rates are pretty similar, too. Last year, though, he had a pretty massive reverse platoon split, though that looks to largely be BABIP fueled as he still had much better strikeout and walk rates against righties. Factor in his issues with inherited runners and it sort of shoehorns Salas into a static role where he can come in to start an inning clean.
In a roundabout way, that actually makes him a better candidate for the seventh inning role than it does Mike Morin even though Morin is the more talented reliever. Salas lacks the flexibility that Morin has in terms of mid-inning and groundball situations, but his lack of platoon difference and need to start an inning clean just tailors him to a role where he pitches the seventh inning and that’s about it. I guess you could say that he specializes in not being a specialist.
3) Am I the only one who constantly confused him with Ernesto Frieri last season?
They definitely looked alike, especially depending on how either was wearing their facial hair. Salas wore #59 an Frieri wore #49. I’m just saying there were too many times that the only way I was certain who was on the mound was by checking Gameday or, you know, by seeing if the pitcher got anyone out. If he did, it was probably Salas.
The Final Word (and GIF)
Out of all qualified relievers last year, only three had a lower groundball rate than Salas and they all struck out at least one more batter per nine than Fernando did. I’m not sure that he can keep on living quite so far to the extreme of the spectrum and still expect to succeed in MLB.