Doug and I will be sharing a handful of samples over the next couple of weeks to give you an idea of what you can expect in the 2014 SP Guide. We have selected a diverse group across both leagues for the samples ranging from established aces to promising on-the-rise arms. Next up is superstar Chris Sale. There is a case that he’s actually underrated among aces after two brilliant seasons (no, all the samples won’t be AL Central guys!). The mechanics report card denotes the split between mine and Doug’s writing. Everything above the card was written by me, the card and text are Doug’s. If you have questions, comments, or funny jokes you can either comment here or reach us on Twitter @sporer and @doug_thorburn. Details on how to order the guide are included at the end of the piece.
Chris Sale (25 years old) – While a certain sect of the baseball world waits for what they believe is an inevitable breakdown for him, Sale just continues to produce at a superstar level. His sixth and fifth place finishes in the last two Cy Young races are almost criminal. After an amazing 2012, Sale went out and did better across the board and ended up as an unquestioned fantasy ace even with just 11 wins. He added strikeouts and innings while dropping walks, ERA, and WHIP.
Sale’s three-pitch mix is positively devastating. His swing-and-miss (misses out of all swings, not of all pitches) rate sixth in baseball among qualified pitchers at 26 percent, up from last year’s 24.4 percent. Additionally, his called strike rate was at an insane 39.5 percent, fourth in baseball. He was the only one in baseball to finish in top 10 of both categories. A.J. Burnett and Max Scherzer join him as the only three in the top 20.
Sale gets his misses pretty evenly with 36.6 percent from the slider, 32.7 percent from the fastball, and 30.7 percent from the changeup while looking strikes were widely split with 49.4 percent coming from the fastball, 35 percent coming from the slider, and 15.6 percent coming from the changeup. He got 127 looking strikes in pitcher counts, second-most in baseball to Cliff Lee’s 175 and up from just 79 in 2012. He also got 73 looking strikeouts (backwards Ks) which was also second to Lee, who logged 93. Sale got 42 (57.5%) of those called strikeouts on the slider, 26 (35.6%) on the heater, and five (6.8%) on the changeup. Look at the improvement of where the looking strikeouts came from in 2013:
This is improved command. He was doing a lot more of my site’s name in 2013. Tied to the injury concerns, some are worried about the strong workload he has shouldered the last two seasons including a career-high 214.3 innings in 2013, but too much is made of innings counts as opposed to pitch counts. The number of pitches matters much more and particularly the pitches made under duress. It’s hard to figure out the latter, but the former is well-tracked in the internet age.
Sale threw 3,248 pitches and his 15.2 pitches per innings was the 15th-best rate in the game among pitchers with 150+ innings. For context, Hisashi Iwakuma led baseball at 14.1. Among the pitchers with at least 200 innings, his rate was 8th-best (C.J. Wilson’s 17.2 P/IP rate was last). I’ve taken the long way to outline just how great Sale is at pitching. You probably already knew that, but I think it’s worthwhile to point out some of the drastic improvements he made and why some of the concerns regarding his workload and potential breakdown are overblown.
Doug gave him a strong grade of B- last year (I’m sure another report is forthcoming from him, I’m writing this ahead of receiving his work) with only the balance getting a subpar grade (30). He has some injury indicators with the inverted W, elbow drag, and high slider volume, but he’s not markedly more risky than other guys with similar indicators (Strasburg shares the former pair, for example). Invest confidently.
Sale brings the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk. His imbalance is pronounced for the first 90% of his delivery, as the lefty hunches over and leans back until foot strike, at which point he miraculously rights the ship to finish with near-perfect posture. With sharp arm angles and a lanky wingspan, he looks like a vulture stalking its prey before unleashing deadly sliders upon unsuspecting hitters. His delivery carries precursors to potential elbow injury, in which the angled wings and pronounced scapular load lead to recurrent elbow drag, so some of his funk might be destructive in the long run.