What is the matter with Chris Sale? The Red Sox star lefty has seen his velocity sink – just like another former Red Sox star from the distant past.
The Boston Red Sox signed lefty Chris Sale to a hefty $145 MM extension, but so far the results have been somewhere south of bitter disappointment. Is it wear and tear? Is it just a funk? Is Sale a pitcher in transition? The Red Sox of the distant past have been down the road to failure with a star lefty.
The Red Sox were a dreadful team as 1933 came into being, but so was the entire country with the Great Recession. Fenway Park’s wooden bleachers had suffered a fire in 1926 and the destruction had never been rebuilt. Why? You don’t need seats when no one shows up to see a team where success was not finishing last.
In February 1933 Tom Yawkey bought the Red Sox for $1.25 MM and the rebuild of the park and the team began. As mentioned the Great Depression was in full bloom and the high-flying Philadelphia Athletics had a star player and needed money. And money is what brought Lefty Grove and his 24-8 record to Boston for 1934.
Grove simply floundered as he never had before. Grove went just 8-8 but what glares out is a 6.20 ERA. Grove had five times led the American League with the best ERA and had seven consecutive seasons leading the AL in strikeouts. Unlike Sale, there was no potential dead money – just the $125,000 paid along with a few scratch players. Grove’s arm was the issue.
Sale’s fastball velocity has tanked compared to his past numbers. Sale had a shoulder issue in 2018 and has that now resurfaced? Is the edge off Sale’s once dominant slider? Is this a season that will resemble what happened to Grove in 1934? At this point, Sale is 0-3 and has shown little in three starts to encourage Red Sox Nation. Is this dead money that will make Pablo Sandoval appear as baseball chump change?
In 1935 Grove came into spring camp ready to produce and produce Grove did. Grove finished the season 20-12 and led the AL with a 2.70 ERA. Grove never won 20 games again for Boston but did lead the AL in ERA three more times. The blazing fastball was a memory with a career Boston 5.2 K/9 – a statistic Grove had five times led the AL in K/9. Grove simply made a commendable transition from heat to stealth.
Sale’s career 10.8 K/9 is easily double what has happened in his three starts. Is Sale going to suddenly discover his speed or simply is this a case for a new Sale? Sale’s first two Boston seasons resulted in a 13 K/9 and that now appears to be a high water mark.
The issue at hand is Sale’s ability to potentially emulate Grove and transition to being a pitcher who now does not have the physical ability to blow away hitters. That, of course, is all dependent upon Sale’s mysterious loss of velocity not being symptomatic of an injury, but just a natural process of baseball aging. The questions will be answered as the season progresses, but Sale can become Grove if his future as Randy Johnson disappears.