After today’s start in the Red Sox home opener against the Blue Jays, here is a rundown of Sale’s 3 starts this season:
March 28 @ Seattle: 3 IP, L, 6 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3 HRA
April 2 @ Oakland: 6 IP, L, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HRA
April 9 vs. Toronto: 4 IP, L, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 K
Those are not starts you want to see coming from a guy who is being paid $145 million over the next 5 years. So what happened to the guy that started off last year with a 1.97 ERA over his first 23 starts with 219 strikeouts? The only thing that has changed (aside from Sandy Leon not catching his starts) is his fastball velocity. Every Red Sox fan is tired of looking at the radar gun in Sale’s starts, but it seems to be a real concern that his velocity has dipped.
His fastball is averaging 91 MPH this year, 3 MPH lower than it’s ever been for a season. Why the sudden dip? I think the dip is in response to the shoulder fatigue he experienced at the end of last year. Chris Sale has had a habit of declining in the second half of seasons. I think this year, he and the Red Sox tried to counter this by ‘taking it easy’ in the first half of the season, and leaving the good starts for August, September, and October. The dialing back of the fastball velocity has led to him not missing many bats early this season, as he only has 8 strikeouts in 13 innings, whereas he averages 10.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, which would be the best mark in MLB history for a starting pitcher. When he was blowing guys away with 98 MPH, he wasn’t always hitting his spots, but batters still couldn’t catch up to it. Now that he’s throwing 91, those misses are more hittable.
So, is there a solution? I think there’s a middle ground here, where he doesn’t have to throw every fastball at 99, but he also doesn’t have to hold back and throw it in the low 90s. I think he should aim for an average fastball velocity of around 93-95 MPH, and he will see better results. After all, that’s what’s made him earn this extension: 98 on the black, followed by a frisbee slider.
Photo via The Boston Globe