Watching Chris Sale pitch for the Red Sox this year has been an absolute treat. It’s gotten to the point where I plan my week around Sale’s starts. Last Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles was definitely worth blowing off my friends and loved ones and spending 2 and a half hours watching Sale make the O’s looks like a little league team.
Sale was instrumental in leading Boston to their 5-2 win, tossing 8 innings of 3 hit ball and striking out 11 on the night. This was Sale’s fifth straight game striking out 10+ batters for the Sox, a feat only matched by one other pitcher to wear the uniform: Pedro Martinez.
The real crime here is that the five runs the Red Sox scored on that night matched the amount of runs they had scored in Sale’s previous 5 starts COMBINED. Through the first month of the season the Red Sox offense has been inconsistent to be nice. To say they have been downright awful at times might be more accurate. When you have a man on the mound who’s given up 0, 2, 1, 0, 2, & 2 earned runs in 6 games, he should not have a 2-2 record. If anything that tells us how little pitcher wins should matter when evaluating overall performance.
Only talking about Sale’s excellent 1.38 ERA doesn’t exactly tell us how dominant the intimidating lefty has been this season. He is leading the MLB in strikeouts and innings pitched, and second in WHIP (.74) and WAR (2.0).
So far he has 63 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitched giving him a K% of 38%. Those 63 strike outs tie Randy Johnson in 1999 for most strikeouts with a new team through 6 starts. In addition to that being the most baseball statistic I've ever heard, it is super impressive.
He’s also sitting on a 5% BB rate, with 8 on the year, which gives him an outrageous 33% K-BB%. The rest of the league’s average is 12%. He’s almost 3 times more effective on the mound then the average other pitcher this season. Beastly.
The real thing that makes Chris Sale such a treat to watch is more than just the ruthless efficiency at which he mows down the opposition. Since being traded from the White Sox, Sale has been a great clubhouse presence and excellent teammate.
When Dylan Bundy threw his two hardest pitches of the night inside to Mookie Betts (hitting his hip on the second attempt) Monday, Sale wasted no time retaliating.
First time through the order, he threw behind the Orioles star 3B and original instigator, Manny Machado. Not throwing at his head, not even hitting him. Just enough of a buzz to send Baltimore a message that Sale wasn’t going to let Baltimore get away with throwing at arguably Boston’s best player.
Sale punctuated his message by striking Machado out for his the 3rd out and 3rd strikeout of the first inning. He was met with a round of high fives and congratulations as he made his way back into the dugout. He stood up for his teammate and the team recognized it.
One of the things this Red Sox team has been missing early on this season is a strong veteran presence. With no Ortiz to run the show, the team is searching for leadership. Sure, this is Dustin Pedroia's team, but with the Red Sox defense ranking in the bottom of the league it might be good to have another strong voice in the clubhouse.
Could Sale be that added presence to help get some of these young guys back on track? Time will tell, but seeing as bringing in Sale has already seemed to have a positive impact on fellow lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, it looks like he might be just what the rest of the club needs.
Clubhouse leader or not, Chris Sale is the best pitcher on the team, and it’s not even close right now. We’ll see how he manages to keep this great start going all season long, and if he does he’s going to be hard to beat out for that AL Cy Young this year. Despite how much Kate Upton might want to complain about it again.