Chris Sale goes from reliever to ace

Chris Sale(US Presswire)

The Chicago White Sox had entered 2012 with Chris Sale pegged for a rotation spot after dominating in 100 innings as a reliever in 2011. Sale was given five starts before elbow soreness caused the White Sox to change their mind.

The White Sox decided to move Sale to the closer role in response to the elbow problem. I can’t say I understood this one at all after so many injuries seen in the past few years to pitchers being moved back and forth from the rotation to the pen.

The move didn’t last long. Sale made one relief appearance and convinced the team to send him back to the starting rotation. He also has a clean MRI and things have only gotten better since then.

After 10 appearances overall, Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball with a 6-2 record and an ERA of 2.34. His strikeouts per nine have been stellar even though dropping a bit from his role as a reliever. His rate stands at 9.52 so far this season, down only slightly from 10.01 last season in the pen.

On top of dominating hitters Sale is also walking fewer. Last year Sale was throwing in the zone 49 percent of the time; for this season he is at 51 percent. Hitters are swinging at 45 percent of pitches up from 41 percent in relief last season.

So Sale is hitting the zone more and hitters are swinging more, although they are making more contact. Sale is falling behind early, with his first pitch strikes down from 60 percent to 52 percent this season. It hasn’t hurt him so far, but getting the first strike should help maintain his early success. (The league average this season is 59 percent first pitch strikes.)

The really interesting data are in Sale’s splits. Since he’s a left-hander, you might assume his numbers are best against lefties. In fact, he’s been close to just as good against righties.

Overall his K/BB against lefties stands at 3.44 in his career and 3.14 against righties. The difference is minimal and comes down to a great change-up he uses on right handed hitters. He uses mainly his fastball and slider on left-handers, but goes with four pitches against the right-handers (fastball, sinker, slider and change-up).

The slider is very impressive and has a whiff rate this season of 46.9 percent, which is about 27 percent better than league average for change-ups. Right-handers have just as much trouble with it, whiffing 48 percent of the time on the slider.

After 10 games and nearly two months of the season, Sale is top ten in the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and SIERA. He has been a bit lucky with a BABIP of .264 and a HR/FB of 6.1 percent. None of those are enough to make him look less appealing in the rotation, and you would hope the White Sox feel the same way.

Even with the regression that ZiPs is projecting, he would finish with 13 wins, 180 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.27. The White Sox will need Sale and Jake Peavy to maintain their excellent starts to stay in the playoff hunt. As long as he stays healthy and has no future elbow troubles, Sale should establish himself as one of the better starters in the AL.

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Small error, he threw 71 IP last year, maybe you rounded the 94.1 he threw over the last two years? He said that the elbow soreness was going to limit the slider but he seemed to use it alot against the Rays the other day.  Maybe he was just using it as an out pitch so it looked more prominent.  He doesn’t seem to have any problem throwing it to righties as you mentioned.  He starts it over the center or inner half of the plate and it breaks down and in towards the back foot which gets him a… Read more »

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

Your right Mike.  That should have said “nearly 100 innings in his first two seasons”.

I really like watching him pitch although I still worry about someone throwing a breaking pitch like the slider that frequently.