Pitcher Spotlight: Chris Sale

I’d like to introduce a new feature at FanGraphs: the pitcher spotlight.  While I will continue to try to highlight unique skills or aspects of the sport in other pieces, Major League Baseball is overflowing with quality pitching and interesting prospects worth addressing.  To cover a wider range of pitchers, these posts will be a regular but relatively brief look at a pitcher’s repertoire.

This week’s subject is 24-year-old Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale, who is fresh off a dominating 13 strikeout performance in his last start.  Sale is a deceptive low arm-slot lefty who fully utilizes his quality four pitch mix, which includes a four seam fastball, two seam fastball, slider and changeup.  Here are those offerings in the usual composite graphic with footage stabilized and synchronized to provide a relative look at their movement and velocity.


As well as an isolated look at the fastball-slider combination.


Like most left handed pitchers, Sale focuses on his breaking pitch vs left handed batters, but uses a more even mix vs right handed batters.  The changeup in particular has seen a spike in usage, up from 15% in 2012 to 20% this year.


To get a look at Sale’s pitch selection in game action, I’ve selected two pitch sequences.  First up, Oakland right handed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.


As you can see, even with Sale’s arm slot, he’s not an easy guy to hit, even for right-handed batters.  Here’s a match up with lefty Michael Bourn.


While breakout performances may take precedence, any reader input on upcoming subjects is welcome. There are a lot of interesting pitchers in baseball to cover, but I’d love to hear who you’d like to see get put in the spotlight.

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Drew Sheppard is a writer for FanGraphs, graphic artist and GIF enthusiast. If you have a topic you would like Drew to take a look at in the future using overlay GIFs, please let him know in the comments here or on Twitter @DShep25.

36 Responses to “Pitcher Spotlight: Chris Sale”

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  1. joneseyk09 says:

    I really like the new piece! I’d love to get your opinions on Brett Cecil’s recent success and his repertoire. I think he goes fairly unnoticed given the fact that he’s been one of the Blue Jays’ go-to set-up guy this season, but he’s really flashed some All-Star quality stuff and a fast improvement in his control and K%.

    Thanks again!

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    • LRG says:

      Yeah I agree. Cecil has been the best middle reliever in baseball after being a disaster starting pitcher. What makes him such a great middle reliever but such an awful starter? Maybe some side by side GIF’s to compare and contrast.

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  2. GiantFan12 says:


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  3. Perry says:

    .gif magic

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  4. Zach says:

    Hisashi Iwakuma. I’d be interested to see just how effective that splitter really is.

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  5. Scott Clarkson says:

    I’d be interested to know which pitch he’s throwing that ends w/ the more exaggerated finish that has his left leg coming across the mound and his whole body going severely to the right. Is it just some extra gusto on an inning ending K or what?

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  6. Eminor3rd says:

    This is an absolutely awesome use of your GIF skills. Congrats on finding a niche, keep up the great work!

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  7. eliasll says:

    Great work. Would love to see Shelby Miller

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  8. Sean says:

    As someone who generally hates most of the articles on Fangraphs, I think this is great stuff. I would be interested in seeing a lot more of this, with the basic graphs that are easy to grasp and digest. Sabrs and non-sabrs alike will find this useful and enjoy it.

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  9. Ryan says:

    Very cool, look forward to checking more of these out.

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  10. Tom says:

    Harvey, Scherzer, and Jose Fernandez are the ones I’d most want to see.

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  11. Corey Klubers Entourage says:

    If you shine a spotlight on Chris Sale, is there any shadow?

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  12. Name says:

    Offcenter camera angles. Grrrrr

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  13. Name says:

    Great piece by the way. Any particular reason for choosing the Cespedes gif? Pitch mix I assume. Sale’s third pitch though… Could it be any more down the middle?

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    • Name says:

      Still love the gifs

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    • Yes, criteria there was looking for a good mix in 5+ pitch at bats, limited to strikeouts to try to get quality.

      In the future I’ll probably mark down particularly good sequences I see live to use for other pitchers, though if anyone wants to tweet one at me sometime that’d be welcome.

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  14. MikeS says:

    From watching him, it looks to me like he throws the change to righties on the outside corner where it belongs, but he can also throw the slider more over the middle of the plate at about the same speed so hitters think he has missed with a change in the middle of the zone, and then the slider dives down and in and he gets swinging strikes. That seems to be how he can be so tough on righties even with that arm slot where they should see the ball really well.

    Against lefties, well, I don’t know how they ever make contact unless he misses badly.

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  15. Bab says:

    How about strike-throwing machine Bartolo Colon?

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  16. Andrew says:

    First off, I love the gifs.
    I hate to be that guy, but I hope I can convince you that the 3D barchart is not a good choice. The 3D makes it harder to perceive where the data lies and is unnecessarily flashy. It is hard to see the height of the blue bars because we are looking at them at an angle.
    I would suggest a (2D) line chart with 2 lines, one for LH and one for RH.

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    • Other Guy says:

      I dunno, I kind of liked the graph. I immediately got a sense of the differences and similarities between against L and R batters.

      As a guy who has to look at tons of awful graphs all day for work (data presentation should be a required course for engineers), I thought this one was OK.

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  17. Matty Brown says:

    Love this!

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  18. AdamM says:

    Gotta see Waino and that fall-off-the-table hook.

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  19. channelclemente says:

    Just great video. He reminds me a little of Bumgarner. It would be interesting to see a side by side of the two of them.

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  20. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Great post! That gif is pretty amazing. I’m hoping to see Iwakuma or Jose Fernandez featured on this at some point.

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  21. Jon L. says:

    The first gif is absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen pitch usage presented the way it’s done above, and I found it more helpful than anything I’ve seen before (albeit I’m not sure I’ve actually seen pitch usage graphically represented before).

    The gif’s after the first one aren’t working on my PC laptop – I’ve had this problem before on both my computer and my iPhone. Anyone have any tips/fixes?

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    • I’ve been curious if my heavy GIF usage had been problematic for too many people, though yours is the first comment thus far on it. I should probably look into a mouseover to play system I’ve seen used elsewhere.

      For now, you could try opening the article in an incognito/private browser window, forcing it to re-cache everything.

      If you enjoyed the first GIF and hadn’t seen the type before, click my name to view my author page – I’ve done similar ones in the past. Thanks!

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      • Jon L. says:

        Thanks! I have seen your other gifs; I just too subtly segued into a comment on the 3d graph.

        I’ll try using private browser windows.

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      • TCQ says:

        Mouseover to play would be fantastic – I don’t have a problem loading the GIFs, exactly, but the ones that I have to scroll down to see tend to stick.

        Really neat stuff, just like everyone else says (every time, deservedly).

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  22. Mike says:

    How about Samardzija? Or Travis Wood, I’d love to see what has helped him turn the corner this season.

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  23. TheSinators says:

    Wow. These are so cool. I’m really glad you joined fangraphs.

    I’d love to see a post on Felix. He’s got so many pitches, I think it would make for very interesting analysis.

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  24. chasfh711 says:

    Tim Hudson. I want to know what he is doing different this year versus last year that is leading him to get more swings out of the zone (32.7% this year vs. 29.5% last year) and less contact in the zone (89.1% vs. 92.2%), leading to more swinging strikes (9.5% vs. 7.1%), all of which augurs for better performance.

    Yet, despite, this and his relatively unchanged BABIP (.279 vs. .270), he is performing not that much better, and by some measures, worse. Last year he was 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA; this year, 4-7 with a 4.10. His FIP- is basically the same (96 vs. 97). I know he has elevated his HR/9 rate (0.84 vs. 0.60), but wouldn’t his much better zone numbers more than cancel that out? maybe not.

    But I do want to know what he’s doing different. Or is this all luck?

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  25. pkthundr7 says:

    very cool, but I think I’d like to see the pitches all in isolation. It is hard to track the two-seam vs. 4-seam fastball trajectory in that first gif. In other news, I’d like to see a highlight on Jordan Zimmermann.

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