When I was in high school, I had a fascination with Aldous Huxley. I suppose it’s somewhat telling of both my lack of intelligence and self-involvedness that my fascination had absolutely nothing to do with his most popular work, Brave New World, and a hell of a lot to do with something that I read in a mini-biography of the writer at the back of a copy of Eyeless In Gaza.
It seems that Mr. Huxley had health troubles throughout his life, and as evidence of his physical turmoil, the biography I read informed me that the 6’4″ thinker once weighed as little as 160 pounds. At the time of originally reading this, I was approaching 6’4″ at a beyond gangly 160 pounds. While perhaps not as fragile as Huxley, I could certainly relate.
Chris Sale, the Major League pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, neither ill nor 17 years old, is listed in his FanGraphs player profile as being 6’5″ and only 170 lbs. Although, I could only wish to have the problems keeping on weight that I previously endured, I am now fascinated with Sale, just as I was with Huxley.
When we last checked in on my new favourite member of the White Sox pitching staff, the young and exciting and tall and thin and left handed and awkward delivering and begging for us all to invoke Randy Johnson comparisons, Chris Sale was embroiled in a multidirectional tug of war over his place on said pitching staff.
For those uninitiated in the affairs of Sale (which in French would look like les affairs de Sale and sound a lot like a course one used to be able to take at The Sorbonne), the 23 year old found success coming out of the bullpen last year in Chicago, mainly based on the effectiveness of his off speed and breaking pitches which he set up with his 95 miles per hour fastball.
Rightfully determined to get as much out of Sale’s talent as they can, the White Sox announced this off season that he’d be moving into the rotation, hopefully lessening the blow felt by losing Mark Buehrle to free agency. The change started out great. Sale proved to be very effective, never allowing more than three runs in any of his first five starts, for which averaged almost seven innings per outing.
Sale’s elbow began bothering him after his fifth start, but instead of undergoing a proper examination, the White Sox moved the pitcher back to the bullpen, announcing that he would now close out games for the team. After a single relief appearance, the pain was still there, and he finally went to get an MRI.
Just as Sale’s representatives began to complain about Chicago’s handling of their client, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams described the MRI results as “clean and pristine,” and said that his prized pitching pupil would go back to the rotation. He started on Saturday, pitched five innings, gave up seven hits, three walks and three runs, while striking out only one. It was what we in the industry would call a lackluster performance.
It’s only one start, but a closer look at the outing shows that Sale threw far fewer breaking pitches and far more fastballs than he typically has in the past. Is this by design to limit the stress on an elbow that doesn’t feel very comfortable, or is it merely the random results of a single start? We won’t know until we’ve seen him go out there a couple times, but the immediate reaction is one of concern no matter what the MRI results suggest.
And so, now here we are.
Sale wants to be a starter, and there seems to be some confusion between Robin Ventura, his team’s manager, Don Cooper, his team’s pitching coach, and Williams, his team’s GM, over what the White Sox want from him. Normally, the only question that must be answered when deciding a pitcher’s role is whether or not he is good enough for the rotation. However, Sale’s issue isn’t so much his talent level as it is whether or not his spindly frame can handle the rigours of being a Major League starter.
As I wrote last week, it’s an interesting conundrum for the White Sox and a very good example of factors outside of mere numbers that must be considered before making a decision. Obviously, starters are much more valuable than relievers, but how much time can a starter miss due to injury before he can be considered more valuable out of the bullpen, and how will that transfer of roles affect the pitcher when his desire is to start?
What would be best for the White Sox and the future of their young pitcher?
It seems that you could make a reasonable case for using Sale as both a starter or a reliever. However, with a bothersome elbow and what we assume is the limited effectiveness because of it, would resting his arm for the time being really be that bad of an option? The White Sox, while very much underrated by most pundits, are still unlikely to be competing for the AL Central title by the time things are all said and done. It would seem to me that at the moment a healthy pitcher further on down the road is worth far more than a few wins right now.