In Chris Sale’s 2017 season with the Red Sox, it became clearer than ever that he is a completely different pitcher in the first half of a season than he is in the second half. He pretty much goes from being Randy Johnson to Jamie Moyer, and I don’t mean that in terms of velocity, I mean it in terms of effectiveness.
Compare his averages in his first 20 starts each season to his remaining starts, and you have yourself a completely different, more diminished pitcher. In his remaining starts, Sale’s looking at an ERA close to a whole run higher, a WHIP and FIP that goes from excellent to league average, and a W-L% that goes from .688 to .500.
He basically goes from being the incredible Hulk to Bruce Banner.
There’s good news ahead, however. This year Chris Sale looks like Thanos. With the snap of a finger he can put you out, and it doesn’t look like anybody is going to stop him. Alex Cora is taking care of his prized pitcher better than any of Sale’s previous managers have, and Sale’s pre All-Star game numbers are better than ever. This might end up being Sale’s best season yet!
Lets start with the fact that Chris Sale’s fourseam fastball velocity is up. In all of 2012, when Sale moved from his role as a relief pitcher (RP) to a starter (SP) with the Chicago White Sox, Sale touched 99 mph one time. That season, his average velocity was 93 mph.
So far this year, in 20 starts (GS), Sale has touched 99 mph or more 12 times. Eight of those times, Sale touched 100 mph or more. His average velocity currently stands at 96 mph, the highest through 20 GS in his career.
To put things in perspective, last season (2017) Chris Sale touched 100 mph or more on a pitch a grand total of 0 times. That’s right, zero!
If we look at the release speed (average) of Sale’s fourseamer from the time he became a starting pitcher in 2012 to present day, you’ll notice that there has been a slight increase each year except 2016, where he experienced a bit of a lull.
This could be do in part to the fact that Chris Sale is pitching fewer innings and throwing fewer pitches than he ever has before. Since we’re only 20 GS in this season, i’ll give you averages. This season, Sale is averaging 6 innings pitched (IP) and 101 pitches thrown (PT) per game. Last season Sale averaged 7 IP and 107 PT. Now, that may seem like a small difference, but extrapolate that over 20 starts. We’re talking 20 fewer IP and 120 fewer PT compared to last season. Add at least 10 more starts to the mix and we’re looking at 30 fewer IP and 180 fewer PT. That’s a lot of unnecessary wear and tear you’re not putting your star pitcher through.
Another reason why Chris Sale has been so effective is that he has much better command of his pitches. Sale is throwing more first pitch strikes (F-Strike%) this year than ever before. Through 20 GS this season, Sale has a F-Strike% of 68.7 which is just about 2 points higher than last season when he had an F-Strike% of 66.8, and 6.5 points higher than he had in 2016. This is good because, as we know, when a SP throws first pitch strikes the advantage drastically tilts in his favor against a hitter.
Combine Sale’s command with his great ability to change speeds and you have a recipe for disaster… if you’re a hitter. There’s a difference of 8.6 mph between his fourseamer and changeup, and 16 mph between his fourseamer and slider. Imagine staring at a 96 mph fastball followed by a 80 mph slider. You don’t have to, just look at this pitch from his last start against the Texas Rangers this past Wednesday, July 11.
Sale is fooling hitters like this at an unprecedented rate this season. His swinging strikes percentage (SwStrk%) of 16% is 3.2 points higher than his career average.
The result of all of this? Sale is striking out more hitters per nine (SO9) than ever before with 13.1 SO9. That’s 2.3 more than his career average.
Remember when I said that Chris Sale is reminiscent of Randy Johnson before? Well, I have a secret to tell you. This year, he’s better. Let’s compare Chris Sale this season to prime Randy Johnson in 2001 with the diamondbacks.
The difference? Sale is keeping runners off base. Less runners equals less runs for the opposition. Perhaps this is the reason Sale hasn’t lost a game since June 8th, seven starts ago. Perhaps even, this could be the reason the Red Sox win the World Series this year like Johnson did in 2001. You never know.
Want to see how I gathered all this information? Click here for my super dorky spreadsheets.
Photo by Adam Glanzman / Getty Images