Chris Sale’s Strikeout Streak is Powering Surging Red Sox

Pedro Martinez. Chris Sale. Chris Sale.

That’s the list of pitchers in the modern era who have logged at least 10 strikeouts in eight straight games. Sale has now done so twice in his career, once in 2015 with the Chicago White Sox and now in his initial campaign with the Boston Red Sox.

On Friday night, Sale fanned 10 Athletics over seven frames. He picked up a no-decision in the contest, one the Sox went on to lose 3-2. Regardless, Sale remains one of the top pitchers to back right now in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests, and there doesn’t appear to be an end to his dominance in sight.

The biggest stat that jumps off the page when you look at Sale in these last eight games is his pitch count. He hasn’t averaged more than 18 pitches an inning during the streak. In back-to-back starts against the Blue Jays and Yankees, Sale struck out 13 and 10 men, respectively, and averaged 12.8 and 13.6 pitches per inning in the process.

When you can limit your pitches like that and still get strikeouts, that means your command is off the charts. Sale has never walked more than 51 men in a season, and on this run his K/BB ratio is 88/12.

The other hero in this saga is Red Sox manager John Farrell. Farrell has gotten Sale to rely more on his second and third pitches instead of just his fastball. This is the first time in his career the lefty has thrown fewer than 50 percent heaters. Sale is relying more than ever before on his changeup, chucking it at hitters 25.8 percent of the time.

The argument could be made that Sale has even been a little on the unlucky side. His 2.19 ERA is fantastic, but the southpaw has an even more impressive FIP of 1.62 and xFIP of 2.24. His groundball percentage is down this year at 38.1 percent, off from his career average of 43.6 percent, and his LOB percentage of 76.5 is lower than his career mark of 77.9.

Better yet is the fact that Sale’s other advanced stats don’t suggest good fortune either. Sure, his BABIP against of .265 is a little low, but his career average is .289. Last season, Sale posted a .279 BABIP against, and he’s routinely been in that .270-.280 range. Offenses will likely get a little more fortunate when they make contact as the season wears on, but not by such an insanely tangible number. Remember that the Red Sox have a slew of team speed, particularly in their outfield, to run down balls that do get into the field of play.

Sale’s K/9 of 13.02 probably won’t hold, but it doesn’t have to for him to continue being one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. He’s third in the bigs in contact percentage and second in total swings and misses. In general, the starting pitchers who are amongst the league leaders in those categories are the ones adding Cy Young Awards to their trophy cases.

The next scheduled victim for Sale is Texas, the hottest team in the game with 10 straight victories. However, the Rangers average 8.49 strikeouts per game, and Sale is going to be a good bet to not just continue his streak of 10-strikeout performances, but to put the Sox in the win column as well.

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