Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chris Sale is quietly terrific

The Chicago White Sox' Chris Sale might be the quietest superstar in baseball. Whether it is because his team gets little national exposure or because he is not doing Head & Shoulders commercials, I do not know, but he just goes out there every fifth day and is devastating. And he keeps getting better. Sale has now started 38 games in his big league career and is 22-10 in those starts with a 2.93 ERA. Yeah, that is good. Really good.

Last night, he beat the Angels. He did not allow a run. He struck out twelve. Ho hum. As maligned as they have been this season, the Angels do have some bats. Granted, they are all not working together so far this season. But for Sale to limit them to three hits in seven and two-thirds innings is pretty terrific.

For a long time, I have been fearful for Sale. He is six feet, six inches tall and weights only 180 pounds. He looks like the wind can blow him over. He came straight out of college for the White Sox when they selected him with the thirteenth overall pick in the 2010 draft. The White Sox immediately put him in their bullpen. He was terrific there in 79 appearances between 2010 and 2011. I thought that was where he would always be.

And then the White Sox converted him to the starter role and I was fearful of how that would play out. Coming in sixth in Cy Young Award voting gives the answer. But he increased his innings from 71 in 2011 to 192 last season. How would that effect him? The answer this year is, "Stop worrying, William." He looks elastic and electric.

Of course, Sale is not throwing 95 MPH gas like he was in the bullpen. But he is still throwing in the upper 91 range. He was mostly a four-seam fastball pitcher as a reliever but is now throwing mostly two-seam fastballs when he throws hard stuff. His two-seam according to PitchF/X is already worth seven runs above average this season. And that is not even his best pitch.

In his 38 starts, Chris Sale's change-up has been worth nearly twenty runs above average. So far this season, only Doug Fister's change-up is rated higher. And over the last two seasons, only Jason Vargas' and Cole Hamels' change-ups rate higher. And those other two do not have the value in their other pitches like Sale does.

And Sale's results are not flukes. His FIP is only slightly higher at 3.18 and his xFIP, SIERA and tERA are all in the same ballpark. His walk rate is lower this season making his strikeout to walk ratio over four and better than a season ago when he was terrific.

Chris Sale is a terrific pitcher who is getting better as he goes. He may be quiet, but he must speak loudly in fantasy baseball circles. Despite being this tall beanpole, he appears to be durable and consistent. Perhaps the rest of baseball fandom will start recognizing him when he starts an All Star Game or wins a Cy Young Award. He is certainly good enough where both would not surprise me.

If you want to see what this kid can do, check out this video. Be forewarned that you will have to listen to Ken Harrelson, but it is worth it.

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