Chris Will No Longer Be On Sale

What a season for Chris Sale. I was a huge fan of his before the year began, going as far as predicting that he would outearn every White Sox and Diamondbacks starting pitcher. Although I ended up being right, I never expected that he would finish the season as the 12th most valuable pitcher overall, earning $20. Not only was Sale making the transition from reliever to starter, but it was only his second full season in the Majors, after throwing a paltry 10.1 innings over his entire minor league career. So in other words, we really had little clue what we would get from him. It is safe to say that Sale won’t come as cheaply during this year’s drafts as he did last year!

As a reliever, Sale posted a strong ground ball rate and a fantastic strikeout rate and displayed acceptable control. He averaged in the mid-90’s with his fastball and possessed a three pitch mix. He induced a ton of swinging strikes and even threw first pitch strikes at an above average clip, suggesting his control was just fine. He did start in college, so becoming a member of the rotation wasn’t completely foreign to him. Given his skills, he had as good a chance as any to succeed after making the transition.

Sale’s results dazzled over the first half, a time when confusion over his role over the rest of the season became evident. They obviously stuck with him in the rotation and he finished June with a 2.27 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. While he did display strong skills with an 8.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, he benefited from some great fortune that showed up in his BABIP and HR/FB ratio. Judging solely by ERA (which jumped to 3.82 over the final three months), it would appear he tired down the stretch and/or hitters adjusted. However, his strikeout, walk and ground ball rates were nearly identical. The sole difference between the two halves can be seen in the luck metrics. That lucky BABIP regressed and spiked above .300, while he suddenly began to allow home runs, at triple the rate he had in the first half.

So, Sale really was no different from a statistical standpoint throughout the season, which is a good sign. However, there are some red flags. First and foremost is his velocity. Typically when relievers move into the starting rotation, they lose one to two miles per hour off their fastballs. Sale lost 3.7 miles per hour. That’s significant. Then, there’s this:

That’s not a good trend. It’s certainly conceivable that the diminished velocity helped lead to the “poor luck” suffered over those final three months. When the White Sox suddenly appeared to reverse course about Sale’s role early in the season, it was due to concerns about his elbow and durability. Elbow issues usually lead to control problems, not velocity, and his walk rates do not paint a picture of a man that was pitching hurt. But, his F-Strike% was well below the league average for the season, so his control really wasn’t all that good to begin with, even though his walk rates were strong.

I still love Sale as a pitcher. Combine ground balls with strikeout stuff and I’ll do the happy dance. But, he truly scares me for next year. Between the elbow issue, the velocity decline through the season and the huge innings jump, he looks like a huge risk to me, especially at the price you’ll likely have to pay to secure his services on your fantasy team.

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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 also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

10 Responses to “Chris Will No Longer Be On Sale”

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  1. Don Cooper says:

    But what if I can keep him for $4 out of a $260 budget? Would you rather have Medlen at $9?

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    • Is there no way to keep both? Absolutely you have to keep Sale, even given the risk. Not sure how Medlen costs $9, but depending on your league format, he should be a strong profit as well.

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  2. danielschwartz.rotobanter says:

    Thanks Mike. Can i ask where you got the trend data (above ’12 velocity trend graph)?


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  3. phil says:

    Not to mention his heavy use of his slider.

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  4. Ben says:

    I’m in a weird spot with thanks to my league’s rules. I have him at $5, and I have to sing him to a keeper contract, which means I have to keep him for a certain number of years at certain prices, but can’t drop him. i.e:
    through 2013:$5/yr
    through 2014:$10/yr
    through 2015:$15/yr
    through 2016:$20/yr

    for reference, based on our league history, I’d guess he’ll go for about $30-$35 at auction (“true aces” like Lee, Felix and Halladay go for $40-$45, while “top 2’s” are $25-30). I’m leaning towards 2yr/$10 right now, but curious what other people think about his long term value and injury risk

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    • Ray says:

      I’m in a similar league, though I have him for $7 for another season before having to make a decision. For you, I’d be leaning toward 2/$10, I think it minimizes the risk a bit while still getting him cheap for multiple years. That said, why not see what you can get for him? I’m in the process of shopping him for a bat, I think with the right trading partner you could get a solid return while eliminating (most of) the risk that comes along with Sale.

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      • Ben says:

        There was some talk of swapping him and change for Kipnis, but that fell apart pretty quickly due to contract status. (Kipnis has 1 more year before he has to sign, and he didn’t want to take the plunge with Sale, either.) There are very few other cheap players with good track records available, and established players are almost universally way overpaid (Cabrera and Kemp were KEPT at $55 each, and that was probably a good move since Braun and A-Gon went for $64!)

        I own Carlos Santana, Brett Lawrie, and Freddie Freeman, I asked the guys with Trout and Harper what they wanted, and they both just laughed me off. McCutchen, CarGo, and Posey are all one-year rentals for $15, Stanton and Castro are both signed for too much for too long (4/20 each), Heyward is at a reasonable $25, but that’s hardly a steal, E5 is on a great contract, but is a buy-high.

        That basically leaves guys like Goldshmidt($2), Alex Gordon($7), Jose Altuve($7), or Desmond Jennings($5), all good keepers, sure, but Sale projects to be either a top-15 SP, or a disaster, and in a 16-team league I think you have to take some risks and just hope they pay off. None of the guys I could reasonable trade him for are likely to be worth enough, even if they’re less risky.

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  5. jsp2014 says:

    is it possible that Sale intentionally sacrificed velocity for command after those first 3 starts? his velo looks fairly stable if you cover those first 3 starts with your hand.

    regardless, I’m also probably not paying retail for him.

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    • Without knowing for sure, it’s definitely possible, but even without those starts, there was a slight downward trend. And considering he was throwing 95 in relief, we would have expected him to average at least like 93 as a starter, and he couldn’t even average 92.

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