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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!