I was talking with my father about Miguel Cabrera recently, and about how he’s undeniably one of the best hitters either of us have ever seen. One of the things we found so fascinating is that Miggy has seemingly never had to adjust. He’s got this approach, and that approach has been damn near unbeatable going on 14 years now. He’s been waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more for pitchers to exploit him, but there is no exploiting Miguel Cabrera, so he just keeps doing what he’s always been doing. Over the last decade, Cabrera’s swing rate’s always been between 46% and 51%. The contact rate’s always between 79% and 83%. The pull rate, always between 35% and 41%. Ground-ball rate, never wavering from the 39% to 42% range. There’s sure to have been little tweaks here and there, but for the most part, Miguel Cabrera’s been adjustment-free more than a decade, and he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time.
Of course, Miguel Cabrera is the exception. Seriously, the exception. Mike Trout‘s had to adjust. Bryce Harper‘s had to adjust. Hell, even Clayton Kershaw spends some of his off time looking for another piece. Everyone in baseball is adjusting, constantly, which benefits their own employment status as well as mine.
You know Chris Sale as one of baseball’s very best pitchers. Over the last two-plus years, he’s got baseball’s second-best strikeout-walk differential, third-best FIP, fourth-best ERA, and fifth-best xFIP. He’s no Kershaw, but it’s very simple to make the argument that he’s the next-best guy. But Sale’s not content with the next-best guy. Just like Trout and Harper weren’t content with where they were, Sale wants Kershaw status. I’d guess that Sale, personally, has no doubts he can get there.
And so Sale’s made an adjustment. It’s always tough to tell, especially this early in the season, whether the changes we’re seeing in a player’s process are intentional or moreso a product of their environment. It becomes a lot easier to cipher out when the player comes out and lets us know it’s the former. Chris Sale, the American League’s greatest strikeout artist, made a conscious decision to become a more contact-oriented pitcher, and he’s doing it.
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