2013 Pod Projections: Chris Sale

Next stop on the Pod Projections train is last year’s breakout starter Chris Sale, who spent his first season in the White Sox rotation. While I cannot claim credit for expecting him to be that good, I was a huge fan heading into the season. But after a more human second half that included a 4.03 ERA and a significant innings increase, what should we expect as a follow up?

2013 Pod Projection Index:

Hitter Introduction
Carlos Gomez
Mark Trumbo
Brett Lawrie
Jason Heyward
Desmond Jennings

Pitcher Introduction
Kris Medlen
Jeff Samardzija
Max Scherzer

IP: 190

This estimate is right about what he posted last season, as it would be quite optimistic to project that he will reach the 200 innings pitched plateau.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 48%/19%/33%

One of the reasons I was a big fan of Sale’s was because of his strong ground ball rate. Unfortunately, last year he allowed an inflated rate of line drives, which took away some of the ground balls he would normally be inducing. I assume that high LD% was just a one year blip and when it declines, those balls will turn into grounders.

HR/FB%: 10.5%

According to our park factors, U.S. Cellular Field is one of, if not the, best ball parks to hit home runs in. That might help explain Sale’s career 11.4% HR/FB rate, though that rate isn’t that much worse at home than on the road. The disparity certainly isn’t as large as I expected. Either way, I have to project a slightly higher HR/FB rate than I typically hand out due to the park.

BABIP: .300

He’s a ground ball pitcher and it will take more than 286.1 innings of better than league average BABIP marks to convince me Sale has a skill here.

BB/9: 2.8

Somehow Sale was able to limit his walk rate to just 2.4, despite a F-Strike% well below the league average. When these two metrics don’t come anywhere close to matching, something has gotta give. Sale’s walk rates have never been good in the past, so I would bet his walk rate is the one that rises. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it jumped above 3.0 like Steamer is projecting.

K/9: 8.8

Sale’s average fastball velocity dropped a much larger degree than expected for a typical reliever to starter conversion. However, his SwStk% was still excellent. My main concern is what I presented in my last article a couple of months ago, where I examined his velocity decline as the season rolled on. If you check his monthly splits, his August K/9 was actually his best, while his Sept was third best. So clearly that velocity drop did not affect him. But it’s still a warning sign and so I am hesitant to project a repeat or increase over his 2012 strikeout rate.

Below is my final projected pitching line, along with a smattering of other projection systems for comparison.

Pod 190 13 3.31 1.19 186 8.8 2.8 48%/19%/33% 0.300 10.5%
Steamer 181 12 3.66 1.25 173 8.6 3.1 ?? 0.292 ??
Bill James 198 14 3.09 1.11 214 9.7 2.6 ?? 0.293 ??
Oliver 140 11 2.95 1.14 134 8.6 2.4 ?? 0.296 ??
Fans (22) 199 15 3.25 1.14 201 9.1 2.5 ?? 0.295 ??
ZiPS 175.2 14 3.43 1.18 174 8.9 2.7 ?? 0.299 ??

**If you enjoy my Pod Projections, then check out the eBook I just published, Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance. Head over ProjectingX.com for more details!

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He can be heard live every Wed. night at 9 PM EST on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable Show. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

18 Responses to “2013 Pod Projections: Chris Sale”

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  1. Scott says:

    Any thoughts on injury risk? High slider % or something? History of elbow pain? Good recent studies on IP increases?

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    • Guy says:

      His mechanics doom him for a major elbow injury in the near future

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    • semperty says:

      I’m a big fan of following Verducci’s list of pitchers with injury risk. He looks for pitchers younger than 25 who increased at least 30 IP from one year to the next. This year Sale tops the list as he jumped ~120 IP.

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      • Scott says:

        Verducci effect has been disproved time and time again.

        Violent delivery guarantees injury? Mark Prior’s perfect mechanics say hello.

        There’s gotta be something better out there.

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      • Stan Gable says:

        Bunk theory, sure, but he has great hair.

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      • Byrne says:

        Prior didn’t have perfect mechanics. He had the Strasburg inverted W and regardless, his decline wasn’t due to his mechanics. He wasn’t the same after he jacked up his shoulder in that collision with Marcus Giles. Taking a liner directly to the elbow off of Hawpe’s bat didn’t help either.

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    • I’m a bit concerned, especially given the velocity drop and last year’s elbow issues. I was surprised that in Jeff Zimmerman’s injury risk prediction tool, Sale rated low. Since Sale is quite expensive in drafts this year, I highly doubt I’ll end up with him in any leagues. Just doesn’t seem to be worth the risk.

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      • Scott says:

        Those are my current thoughts exactly. What I’m wondering is if the pervasive idea that he is an injury risk will suppress his value to the point that he becomes undervalued. Much like the mechanism for finding value in older guys that you recently wrote up.

        I’d love to trust the numbers in a case like this, but it seems the only number is JZ’s spreadsheet, and as much as I love the guy, that’s not much to stake such a high draft pick on.

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  2. Adam says:

    Awesome, Mike – great work as usual. I would love to see what you think of Mat Latos. Thanks!

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  3. KJ says:

    Nice projection and rationale. I think I see him somewhere right in between yours and Steamer in most categories.

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  4. Dubba Dubs says:

    Mark Prior’s inverted W pitching motion says, “Hello!”

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    • Scott says:

      Yea, Prior did have the W. But there are many other examples out there. Sale is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Randy Johnson, and he never needed TJS.

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  5. lipitorkid says:

    There’s some crazy talk here. 1st of all the fact that his arm hurt last year is a bigger issue than his mechanics. Prior arm pain/injuries are a bigger factor than mechanics. Everyone doesn’t need to look the same when they throw.

    Yu Darvish is 26. Chris Sale is almost 3 years younger than him. Think about that. For pitchers under the age of 25 it’s basically-
    Then: Sale/Moore (not bad company)
    Sale is the tallest pitcher in this group so he’s going to look awkward throwing especially with his youth.

    At the age of 25 Randy Johnson threw 131 IP with 104Ks and a 4.04 ERA oh and that was pitching in Seattle.
    At the age of 23 Chris Sale threw 191 IP with 192 SOs and a 3.05 ERA… I’ll gladly take some regression in that ERA and enjoy his “discounted” sophomore season. I love the kid- he wanted to stay in the rotation, he played hurt… what’s not to like.

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  6. Jon Williams says:

    I attributed the second half fade in velocity and results to just tiring after the greatly increased work load. Any mention of elbow soreness sends fantasy owners into panic mode but I think Sale will be fine.

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  7. Scotty says:

    I’d be interested in one for Morrow. He seems to be all over the place the past few years. He is one I’m having a hard time projecting.

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