As the season grinds into its final quarter, one thing you'll occasionally hear is that getting a key player back is "like making a trade." Sure, it can be -- but it's not always a great trade.With the help of Statcast™, here's a look at some of those "trades." All
As the season grinds into its final quarter, one thing you'll occasionally hear is that getting a key player back is "like making a trade." Sure, it can be -- but it's not always a great trade.
With the help of Statcast™, here's a look at some of those "trades." All of these players spent time on the disabled list, then returned at some point in July.
Maybe, just maybe, Salazar is right for the first time in more than a year. Maybe, just maybe, he was compromised from late July 2016 until late May '17. It makes as much sense as any other explanation for how Salazar went from one of the game's most dominating pitchers, to massive struggles, and back again.
Salazar dealt with elbow issues in the second half of 2016, posting an 8.65 ERA over his final seven starts. He was moved to the bullpen after a 5.50 ERA through the first two months of this year. But since returning from a disabled list stint due to shoulder soreness? Hoo boy.
Four starts, 25 1/3 innings, a 1.42 ERA, 36 Ks and nine walks. Dominance.
Salazar has 77 swinging strikes in those four starts -- 19.35 percent of all pitches he's thrown. That's the second-best percentage of any pitcher with at least 300 pitches in that time frame, behind only teammate Corey Kluber. Meanwhile, among pitchers with at least 50 batted balls against them in that time, he's also one of the best at getting weak contact. Salazar's poorly-hit rate of 69.23 percent ranks 21st out of 156 pitchers on that list.
You're likely to miss if you swing, and you're likely to hit it poorly if you connect. That's how a pitcher succeeds, and Salazar is succeeding these days.
In mid-May of this year, Freeman was following up a brilliant 2016 with an even better start to '17. He was hitting .341 with power, looking for all the world like he was here to stay as a National League MVP Award contender. Then Freeman suffered a fractured left wrist, requiring him to miss seven weeks.
Before the injury, Freeman was crushing baseballs at an elite level, up there with any slugger in the game. From Opening Day through the day he got hurt, nobody was barreling the ball more often than Freeman -- his rate of barrels on 21.15 percent of batted balls led the Majors (minimum 100 batted balls). His average exit velocity of 92.3 miles per hour ranked fourth in baseball.
Immediately upon returning, Freeman had a bit of a surge, but after his first week back, he just hasn't been the same hitter as before. From July 4, his return date, through the 14th, he posted an average exit velocity of 90.4, down a bit, but still solid. After that, though? Not so good.
Since July 15, Freeman's exit velocity has averaged 88.1 mph, 79th out of 212 hitters who have put at least 50 balls in play during that time. He's barreled six out of 75 batted balls, an 8 percent rate that ranks 70th among batters with at least 50 batted balls.
This isn't entirely shocking. In 2015, Freeman was off to an excellent start when he suffered a wrist injury. He slugged .395 from his return until the end of the season before bouncing back with a career year. Freeman will likely be fine in the long run. But for now, his power just isn't there like it was before the injury. Wrist injuries are always tricky for hitters, and Freeman is no exception.
Maybe Conforto needed a break, though this obviously isn't how he would have wanted it. On June 25, he was hit by a pitch on his left hand. Mired in a deep slump at the time (.200/.379/.244 over his previous 17 games), Conforto lingered in limbo for a while before going on the DL for two weeks.
Upon returning, Conforto was good as new. He's been crushing the ball since being reinstated on July 9, with 12 homers in his first 30 games back. The underlying numbers are just as good.
Conforto has 12 barrels in that time, sixth highest in the Majors behind a list of guys known far more for power than he is -- Giancarlo Stanton, Nelson Cruz, Khris Davis, Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Gallo.
Conforto showed control of the strike zone and an ability to get base hits, plus moderate power, earlier in his career. This year, he's a full-on power threat -- even after missing time with a hand injury.
Matthew Leach is an executive editor for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter and read his columns.