Chris Sale has been a disappointment for 2019 with an inability to win at Fenway Park and being mauled too frequently by opposing lineups. Is this his future in Boston?
If being self-critical on poor performance is a virtue then the Red Sox lefty Chris Sale is a baseball Gandhi. Sale has laced his own personal critique with language that would make legendary manager Tom Lasorda blush. So much for being introspective.
Sale was knighted with a five-year and $150 MM contract extension that makes him clearly in the upper echelon of baseball elite. A member of the exclusive $30 MM a year club that has David Price as a member. Is it money well spent?
This season Sale has in words dripping with kindness “been a pitching disappointment.” Sale can still whiff batters, has a devastating slider, and a fastball that has ticked down a few notches (93.1). The loss of velocity may be concerning, but Sale was there in 2013 with a similar loss of heat. This time it may not come back to the mid-90s.
You can dig into various metrics that show a pitcher on the slide down but can alter that with other statistics that show Sale has not really degraded that significantly. His swinging strike rate (14.2%) is still above his career average and his inflated ERA (4.26) is somewhat mitigated by Sale’s 3.41 FIP. The cherry pick game with statistics is an easy one to play. A reality is Sale is a very good hurler and not his former all world self – at least for now.
Sale is in mid-career for a pitcher and is also in transition as a pitcher. Once the heat lessens then the refinement of his art must go to the next level and Sale is in such a transitional stage. Price also went through such a process and is now earning his contract and his heat? Price is now at this all-time low (92.0). I expect the same from Sale.
Pitchers make adjustments or they simply fail to survive and that applies to borderline talent or exceptional talent. Sale knows his art and Sale also has control, pitch placement, deception, and the ability to change speeds that can be devastating to the current proliferation of swing from the heels hitters.
I am not an alarmist about Sale and his 5-10 record nor about his shrinking fastball. Knowing what I know now I would have certainly made the deal that brought Sale to Boston. I expect Sale to be an impact – a positive impact – before the season is in the books and for the remainder of his contract.