All credit for the terriblawesome pun in the headline go to Mister Dave Brown of Big League Stew
Overcoming his well-known allergy to cameras and microphones, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams held court at the GM meetings yesterday. When not musing on Adam Dunn’s off-season training or lamenting questions about the future employment of his franchise’s finest pitcher, he quietly noted that 2010 draft pick and one-time sort of closer Chris Sale would make the move to the starting rotation next season.
Sale raced to the big leagues and has excellent numbers as a reliever. Will these numbers translate when he makes the move to the rotation?
In addition to 170 pounds of sheer fury, Chris Sale brings an excellent four-pitch mix when he takes the mound. Four-seam and sinking fastballs, a change up and a sweet, sweet slider. A nice assortment of weapons to retire both lefties and righties.
As a reliever, Sale was mostly just fastball/slider to left-handed batters, throwing them in equal measure in 2010. Not really a bad strategy as Sale’s fastball touches 95 out of the bullpen. Enough to keep most hitters honest, leaving them prone to the slide piece.
Against right-handed batters, Sale mixed in his change up 16% of the while still relying heavily on his slider, throwing it a quarter of the time against RHB.
The soft stuff treats Sale right. Hitters struggle badly with his assortment of offspeed pitches, posting just a .121 wOBA against Sale’s non-fastball offerings. That is a .252 OPS, if you’re counting at home.
Impressive as that number is, it cannot be taken at face value. Yes, Sale’s off-speed assortment keeps batters off balance and results in some seriously weak contact. As a reliever, he doesn’t need to worry about how he approaches hitters the second and third time through the order, when adjustments are made and back-door sliders are no longer sprung on unsuspecting hitters sitting dead red.
As Roto/Fangraphs noted yesterday, a move to the rotation takes some sting out of Sale’s impressive strikeout numbers – though his walk rate should also shrink accordingly. Even if Sale’s strikeout numbers slide from more than 11 K/9 out of the ‘pen to 9.00 per nine innings as a starter, that places him somewhere between Gio Gonzalez and Jon Lester as left-handed starters go. Or still pretty quite good. Add in his ability to keep the ball on the ground (career 50% GB rate) in a notorious home run park and you (potentially) get a highly effective stater.
Can a player so slight survive the rigours of major league starting even without throwing a potential arm-killer more than 1/3 of the time? No man can live on sliders alone. If Chris Sale thinks he can throw his slider 34.5% of the time over 200 innings, he’s wrong. He can try but his wee teeny arms just won’t let it happen. No arm can stand up to that kind of tendon abuse. Only Ervin Santana and Ryan Dempster boast that kind of slider usage over the last three years, for which I have no explanation aside from witchcraft.
Madison Bumgarner is a better comp, as a spidery slider-spinning master of the National League. And he experienced some weird “dead arm: issues and a prolonged periods of dropped velocity and extreme worry, despite never having any sort of injury as a professional.
A potential move to the rotation for Sale gives the Sox the freedom to let Mark Buehrle ply his wares to the highest bidder while the bullpen depth of Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos suggests the Pale Hose relief corps shouldn’t miss a beat. Though replacing Mark Buehrle is more about innings than it is about strikeouts. And that is the biggest question mark of all – how many innings can the Sox wring from a pitcher so closely resembling a coatrack?