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Unique 'split-change' highlights Salazar's arsenal

'It was really just luck that he throws it this way,' pitching coach Callaway says
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians worked with Danny Salazar on developing a changeup, but the starter could not complete the task in the traditional sense. The pitcher gripped the baseball in the typical circle-change style and simply was unable to make it work the way it usually works.

Salazar's arm angle, combined with the way he released the ball, created more of a tumbling action when he began working on the offspeed pitch years ago. No, Salazar could not throw a traditional changeup. Instead, he developed a pitch that is one-of-a-kind -- and now one of the best pitches in baseball.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians worked with Danny Salazar on developing a changeup, but the starter could not complete the task in the traditional sense. The pitcher gripped the baseball in the typical circle-change style and simply was unable to make it work the way it usually works.

Salazar's arm angle, combined with the way he released the ball, created more of a tumbling action when he began working on the offspeed pitch years ago. No, Salazar could not throw a traditional changeup. Instead, he developed a pitch that is one-of-a-kind -- and now one of the best pitches in baseball.

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"It was really just luck that he throws it this way," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "The way he pitches, it just turned it into something unique, and it comes out like kind of a forkball or split."

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According to data culled by Baseball Info Solutions, Salazar's changeup had a weighted runs above average rating of 19.3 last season. The only qualified pitcher in the Major Leagues with a better changeup was ace Zack Greinke (20.1), who has a Cy Young Award on his resume and signed a six-year, $206.5 million contract with the D-backs this past offseason.

Salazar's changeup -- referred to as a "split-change" due to its movement -- has always been a good weapon for him, but it was a great pitch last season. The hard-throwing right-hander credits his improved pitch sequencing last year for the better results with his changeup. Salazar began featuring a two-seam sinker more, reduced his four-seam fastball and slider usage and learned when and how to best utilize the split-change.

Tweet from @MLBastian: Salazar's split-change was one of best "changeups" in MLB last year. He said pitch usage was key. Here's '14 vs '15. pic.twitter.com/Kk1y2uUo4J

"My changeup has always been there," Salazar said. "But as a young player, when you throw hard, you just want to blow everybody away with your fastball. But you learn that if you keep doing that, you're going to get damaged. So I just started mixing my pitches, using my secondary pitches more. My changeup, that's my second-best pitch, so I just started to use it more. The more you use it, the more you learn how to execute that kind of pitch."

For instance, Salazar began using his split-change much more often in pitcher-advantage counts in 2015 compared to the '14 season. For example, when facing right-handed batters, he used the changeup 32 percent of the time when ahead in the count after using it 13 percent of the time when ahead the previous season. There were also jumps in usage in two-strike counts when facing lefties and righties.

Tweet from @MLBastian: A look at how Danny Salazar's split-change improved from 2014 to '15. Info from @fangraphs and @brooksbaseball. pic.twitter.com/uqAt5Stm3b

Overall, Salazar threw his split-change 20.8 percent of the time in 2015, compared to 12.1 percent of the time in '14. The higher volume also led to lower production by opposing batters, who hit .144 with a .213 slugging percentage against the pitch last season. The increase in both sinkers and split-changeups also led to a significant jump in ground-ball rate (46.2 percent in '15 and 34.3 percent in '14) for Salazar.

"Another year of throwing and getting comfortable at the Major League level obviously had a lot to do with it," Callaway said. "But what I thought he really did a good job of was getting his fastball over and in better spots, to where it kind of opened up more chase and more swings at the changeup. ... It's such a good pitch, and it's such an odd pitch, that it seems like it'd be hard to control, but he did a lot better job than I ever would've thought of getting it over and near the zone."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians, Danny Salazar