Which Chris Sale will we see tomorrow?
When it was announced that White Sox ace Chris Sale would be starting for the American League in tomorrow night’s All-Star game, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little excited. Not only because he was fully deserving of the honor, but because the news got me wondering if we’ll get to get a glimpse of the old Chris Sale.
Sale has been one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch over the course of his career. He led the league in K/9 in 2015 (11.82), and tied Pedro Martinez’s streak of most consecutive games with at least 10 strikeouts (8). He can get hitters out with every single one of his pitches, and is well known for inducing some simply embarrassing swings. And despite the fact that Sale is having a fine year statistically in 2016, his starts no longer have the feeling of “can’t miss.”
It’s been well documented that Sale and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper have elected for a more contact-oriented attack on hitters this year. On average, the lefty’s fastball is coming in over 1mph slower than in 2015 (93.2 vs 94.5) in hopes of keeping Sale stronger towards the end of the season. This change in philosophy produced a start to the season that made it look like he would run away with the AL Cy Young. But Sale come crashing back down to earth over the last nine games:
First 9 starts: 68.1 IP, 1.58 ERA, 0.717 WHIP, 5 HR
Last 9 starts: 56.2 IP, 5.56 ERA, 1.429 WHIP, 12 HR
Just a quick glance at these numbers shows that opposing hitters have adjusted to Sale’s new approach, and that something will have to be done to right the ship after the all-star break.
Or maybe that adjustment doesn’t have to wait.
When Ned Yost announced that Sale would be starting tomorrow night, he added that the lefty will most likely only go one inning (Sale will be pitching on three days rest). There may be no better time for Sale to retest what had made him so dominant throughout his career.
At the top of the NL batting order are Ben Zobrist, Bryce Harper, and Kris Bryant respectively. These three batters present extremely different scenarios to Sale. All three are within the top 15 in OBP within the NL, but their experiences versus Sale vary greatly. Zobrist is 6-11 lifetime against the southpaw, Harper and Sale have never faced during the regular season, and Bryant was dominated by Sale in 2015 to the tune of six strikeout in six at-bats.
Knowing that he’ll most likely only pitch one inning, we as viewers can only hope that Sale will rise to the occasion, know what is on the line, and give us a taste of his vintage self against these hitters.
Watching a fully powered Chris Sale take on Bryce Harper is what the All-Star game is all about. The best in the game putting their best on display for the whole world to see. So even if Sale doesn’t revert to his 2015 pitching style after the All-star game, hopefully we’ll at least get to be entertained, and catch a small snippet of what Chris Sale can really do.