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.