Chris Sale’s Dominant Memorial Day

Three weeks ago, it looked like Chris Sale would no longer be starting games for the Chicago White Sox. Yesterday, he struck out over half the batters he faced in 7.1 innings.

It’s been an interesting year already for the sinewy blue chip. Sale, 23, had immediate success in moving to the starting rotation after spending the entirety of his two major league seasons overwhelming batters from the bullpen. His first five starts resulted in three wins, a 2.82 ERA and opposing hitters were hitting just .205/.262/.342.

Then due to some rather mysterious general elbow fatigue, Sale was moved back to the bullpen where he summarily blew a save on an unearned run. Days later, Sale managed to convince Robin Ventura (or whomever necessary) that he ought to be starting again, and he’s been filthy ever since. In his four starts after the bullpen flap, he’s posted a 1.82 ERA over 24.2 innings pitched, holding opponents to a .189/.247/.244 slash line.

The highlight, of course, was the performance versus the Tampa Bay Rays on Memorial Day in which he struck out 15 batters, giving up just three hits, one earned run, and walking two. What’s particularly notable about this outing was his velocity.

Sale started out the season averaging over 93 mph, but it dropped off in his fourth start and soon thereafter, we had the elbow complaints and the move to the bullpen. When he returned, the fastball was still lacking (by Chris Sale standards). But on Monday, the zip returned:

An additional concern about Sale in the conversion from reliever to starter was his stamina. In many of his starts, he would be able to crank the fastball up to 95 when necessary, but he was having trouble maintaining that ability throughout the start. A good example was his start against the Kansas City Royals:

The trend isn’t dramatic, and being able to throw 93 in later innings is still a pretty nice tool to have in the old toolbox, but his ability to reach back for that extra something typically fell off after the first few innings. But last night, the fastest ball he threw was 96.5 mph and the very last fastball he threw was 96 mph – and that was pitch number 113.

But even beyond the fastball, his stuff was practically un-hittable on Monday. He used pretty much the same distribution of pitches as he has all season, throwing roughly half two seam fastballs, a quarter sliders, and about 15% changeups. But the results were quite different:

Basically, all of his pitches produced about twice the rate of swings and misses that they had in the rest of his starts.

Lastly, and this isn’t to take anything away from what was a fantastic demonstration of pitching ability, you have to consider that the results might have been a by product of an inferior opposing lineup. Before Rays fans start Googling my address and go all Ted Kaczynski on me, note that Joe Maddon ran a lineup out there that included Rich Thompson, Elliot Johnson, Drew Sutton, Will Rhymes, and Jose Lobaton. Yes, he still struck out regulars Sean Rodriguez, B.J. Upton, and Ben Zobrist a combined seven times but the collective level of fear the remainder of the lineup induced was no doubt quite low.

Still, if you’ve got the two minutes to spare, go check out the video of his fifteen K’s — it’s awfully impressive. But, I’d recommend a mute button unless you’re a huge fan of the Hawk Harrelson “he gone!” schtick – there’s a pile of them.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

23 Responses to “Chris Sale’s Dominant Memorial Day”

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  1. Matt Hunter says:

    Dirty. I just wish that video had a better camera angle. I feel like I didn’t get the full effect of that slider.

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  2. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Not to take away from Sale’s dominant performance, but here’s the regressed platoon splits vs. lefties for the Rays starting lineup yesterday:

    Ben Zobrist 0.363
    B.J. Upton 0.350
    Sean Rodriguez 0.332
    Jose Lobaton 0.307
    Drew Sutton 0.307
    Elliot Johnson 0.305
    Jose Molina 0.299
    Rich Thompson 0.289
    Will Rhymes 0.256

    Joe Maddon saw this as a great opportunity to get some guys a bit of rest on a national holiday that fell as a day game after a night game on the road. It was the first time I’ve sat down and watched one of his starts and I have to say I’m impressed. I would not have been surprised if the Rays were no-hit yesterday with what they were running out.

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  3. jpg says:

    I’m not a ChiSox fan so I’m not some excited homer but he reminded me of Randy Johnson, at least for one day. Tall and lanky, whipping fastballs and nasty sliders with a similar three-quarter/sidearm delivery. He was gonna mow down Tampa’s regulars or anyone else for that matter. Nobody was touching him yesterday.

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  4. Dane says:

    Chris Sale was absolutely nasty yesterday. Made a lot of guys look foolish at the plate, and I remember one instance where Upton was walking back to the dugout after a K with a “what just happened” look on his face. Pretty nice writeup here, aside from the lame Harrelson pile-on. Its really getting old.

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  5. Bobby says:

    Yeah, I appreciated the warning about Harrelson; he’s obnoxious .

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  6. Snarf says:

    Why did Ventaura send him out in the 8th inning to get just 1 out?
    For a guy that has/had “elbow fatigue” this seems like an bonehead move.

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    • SFSUGatorAlum says:

      After the 7th he had 15, which meant the strikeout record for a 9 inning game was still in play. He “only” got a ground out which took 21 K’s off the table.

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    • MikeS says:

      Because he’s a rookie manager with no experience whatsoever prior to this year. He seems to be doing a lot of odd stuff this year. Three weeks ago they were saying eh couldn’t handle the workload, then he does stuff like this. Huh?

      Forget what @SFSUGatorAlum said. He had thrown about 110 pitches, he needed 6 strikouts for the record, even if he strikes out the next six guys on three pitches each, Ventura isn’t going to let him go 128 pitches.

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      • Mike K says:

        Sale was a K away from the White Sox record for K’s in a game (16). Ventura let him try to get it on the first batter in the 8th.

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    • Joe O says:

      He was 1 K away from tying a White Sox all-time K record. Ventura probably said “I’ll give you 1 hitter to tie the record, if you do, I’ll give you one more to beat it. But get the first guy, or else I’ll have to pull ya”.

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  7. SeaBass says:

    I’m a white sox fan, and he really has the tools and potential to be the ace of our staff for years to come. That being said, I will pray before every one of his starts that his arm doesn’t fall off. It has been a concern that he would be an injury waiting to happen since he was originally drafted. You can’t really call him a sure-fire thing at this point. At least for me, it’s hard to project how deep into games he will be able to go and his FB velocity has been very inconsistent. Added together with the whole shift to the bullpen and back business has be concerned. That being said, so glad I watched the game yesterday.

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    • Matt says:

      Uh, how is Sale’s velocity inconsistent?

      He has to take something off of it, because he’s not a reliever anymore. In addition, as a reliever…he primarily was throwing a 4 seam fastball. As a starter, he uses the 2 seamer a lot more…..which isn’t as hard, but has more movement. I think his injury concerns are overstated.

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  8. James says:

    immediately after this start i traded sale and matt latos for trout. (keeper league)

    way to nervous about sales injury concerns. Watched the game though…if he can stay healthy I can see him easily being one of the top starters in the American League.

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  9. jim says:

    sale’s delivery is a blown UCL waiting to happen. also, he looks to be too small for his body; should hit the gym in the offseason

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  10. Lenny says:

    For those who think Harrelson is just brutal to listen to (myself is included), check out this one from today.

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  11. thalooch says:

    maybe i’m just an anomaly, but when I’ve got Sale going (and I own him in both leagues), I really relish the “He gone” by Hawk Harrelson. Yeah he’s the worst homer there is, but if you’re betting on the white sox, or rooting for them in some fashion (as most Sale owners would) then he can actually be quite fun to listen to.

    the cool thing about it is I can be doing something else, washing the dishes, etc….but when I hear, “he gone”, I know I just got another K :-)

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