With so much of the talk around the Boston Red Sox concerning their feud with the Baltimore Orioles, there hasn’t been a lot of time to settle down and appreciate what Chris Sale has accomplished so far this season.
We’re now making the time.
In seven starts (51.2 innings) this season, Sale has stuck out 73 of the 194 batters he’s faced. He’s allowed 12 runs over that span, one of which was unearned, and has walked just 11. And those 194 batters? He’s only allowed 30 hits to them for a cool .154 batting average against.
Sale leads the league in strikeouts by 20, is tied with Ervin Santana for the best WHIP at 0.79 and has the third-best ERA at 1.38.
On a staff with two Cy Young winners, Sale might be the best pitcher the Red Sox have.
In Sunday’s 17-6 victory over Santana and the Minnesota Twins, Sale twirled his 6th straight game with at least 10 strikeouts. Which as much as you want to call “vintage Chris Sale” is really more just a reflection of his current brilliance.
Chris Sale's 6th straight game with 10 K. Pedro Martínez is the only other player with a streak of 6+ games in Red Sox history. pic.twitter.com/LdrF3d0BAA
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 7, 2017
Chris Sale joins Big Unit (5), Pedro (3) and Nolan Ryan (2) as only pitchers with multiple 6+ game streaks with 10+ Ks. pic.twitter.com/VR7if7linp
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) May 7, 2017
Seven strikeouts the first time through the order for Chris Sale. SEVEN
— LaVelle E. Neal III (@LaVelleNeal) May 7, 2017
Part of the reason behind the latest brand of dominance seems to stem from the way Sale is mixing up his pitches. Sale has always been known for relying heavily on his fastball. According to Fangraphs.com, that hasn’t been the case in 2017.
For the first time since he entered the league, Sale is using his fastball below 50 percent of the time. For his career before moving to Boston, Sale relied on his heater 55.8 percent of the time. He’s currently sitting at 45.8 percent, while using his slider 29.3 percent of the time and his changeup 25 percent of the time.
In other years, Sale has tried switching up how often he uses his slider and changeup without really messing with his fastball. This year is different. And the balanced approach has hitters as confused as ever.
That would already be a lot to worry about as a hitter, but Sale has one more trick — adjusting the velocity on his pitches.
Here’s how Sale described his approach back in spring training to Jen McCaffrey of Masslive.com:
“I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but you face guys enough and you can kind of see a pattern of when they are swinging. Let’s say, the first hitter of the inning swings at the first pitch and he gets out, groundout to shortstop. 99.999999 percent of the time, the guy coming up next is not going to swing. So I can just throw an 88 mph [batting practice] fastball there. If he hits, he hits it, but shame on him if he gets out then I’m two pitches in and I’ve got two outs already.”
It gets better:
“When I was younger I gripped and ripped and let it eat every pitch. I’d throw 112 pitches in five innings and that’s not doing anybody any good. That’s not doing me any good, that’s not helping my bullpen. So we just kind of developed this, and I think I’m going to fine tune it a little more this year.”
That was Sale before the season. Before he started relying less on his fastball and more on mixing up his pitches.
Take a look at Sale now.
He’s as dominant as he’s ever been, outsmarting batters with his head and whipping the ball past them like only he can.
And when you consider all of that, it takes the shock away from statements like these from some of the game’s greats:
Chris Sale is already surpassing everything I've done
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) May 3, 2017
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