I have not written a lot about the White Sox of late. It has been a very disappointing season for the South Siders, sitting ten games under the 0.500 mark, in a season where there was a lot of buzz about turning the corner and getting into contention. However, even in the darkest of nights, there can be a bright shining star. Chris Sale seems to be that beacon of hope.
Let’s talk some numbers.
Last night, June 30, Chris Sale tied the Major League record by striking out 10 or more batters in his 8th straight game. That is pretty darn good, and it helps to keep in mind that he was playing the St. Louis Cardinals who have already eclipsed 50 wins on the season, doing so in the least number of games of any team of the past decade.
Last night, coincidentally, was also Chris Sale’s 100th career start. That’s a time when we can take pause and begin comparing him to some other pitchers on a career basis. Over their first 100 starts, let’s examine some classic strikeout masters in terms of the number of games they had 10 or more strikeouts:
Nolan Ryan: 22
Randy Johnson: 17
Roger Clemens: 18
Pedro Martinez: 19
Clayton Kershaw: 12
Chris Sale: 27
We need to take this with a degree of salt. In the case of Johnson and Clemens, they entered the game at a time when strikeout pitching was starting to wane, though it took of soon enough. It is difficult to tell for sure if we are passed that or if we are still in the midst of it. If we are still in it, then Sale’s performance is perhaps not as awe inspiring as it looks. If we are past the time of great strikeouts (certainly it is nothing like the early 2000s, the Sale’s numbers are incredibly good.
Here are three statlines of note:
- 100 starts, 557 strikeouts, 565.1 IP, 30-37, 4.23 ERA
- 100 starts, 592 strikeouts, 621.1 IP, 38-34, 3.97 ERA
- 100 starts, 766 strikeouts, 682.2 IP, 46-30, 2.81 ERA
You may have guessed that since I am making a point, that last line is Chris Sale, and you would be right. The second line is Randy Johnson, and the top line belongs to none other than Sandy Koufax. It is a little difficult to compare across eras, and like stocks, past pitching stats are no indicator of future performance. Still, those are damn fine numbers compared to not just a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers, but two of the immortal pitchers in baseball history.
Another interesting stat is that Sale is really hear to baffle hitters. That is, his stuff must look very hittable, but the hitters have a hard time touching it. From May 23 to June 30, here are the top pitchers in baseball in terms of number of swings-and-a-miss strikes they have thrown:
Cole Hammels: 99
Rubby de La Rosa: 102
Clayton Kershaw: 109
Chris Sale: 171!
This is an enormous statistical difference, and for those not in the baseball orbit, Kershaw has won three of the last four NL Cy Young Awards, including the last two in a row, and is the defending NL MVP. While he is not enjoying the overwhelming success he has had the past few years, he is, as of today, still leading the NL in strikeouts.
From a franchise perspective, he already owns the career record for games with 10 or more strikeouts. His 2.17 ERA in 2014 was the lowest of any White Sox pitcher since the Nixon administration. Of all White Sox pitchers with at least 500 career innings pitched in a Sox uniform, his ratio of strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched is the highest ever, and it is better than a full strikeout-per-9 innings pitched better than the second best pitcher. The three best White Sox seasons according to strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched are Chris Sale (2014), Chris Sale (2013) and Chris Sale (2012). If he simply continues at his current pace without improvement, he will improve his own record by over a strikeout and a half-per-9 innings pitched (and would rank as the fifth best season in MLB history at that statistic).
There are 10 White Sox pitchers who have collected 1000 or more career strikeouts while pitching on the South Side. After the equivalent of 4.5 full seasons of pitching, as of today, Sale has 878. Again, if he simply continues at his current pace, he will reach 1000 strikeouts before October. If he were to slow a little, and add 200 strikeouts in 2016, he would end 2016 as the sixth most prolific pitcher in White Sox history … and there is evidence that his best pitching may still be ahead of him.
Is there something stopping Chris Sale? Two words:
Despite putting up numbers that would beg to question on June 30 if his coronation as this year’s Cy Young Award winner will be a plurality of unanimous, Chris Sale cannot seem to win games because the offense is not getting him routine support. In fact during this joyous time, Chris Sale joined Randy Johnson and Curt “bloody sock” Schilling as the only pitchers in MLB history to pitch 10 or more strikeouts in four consecutive games and somehow not win any of them! Last night was no different. Sale pitched 8 brilliant innings giving up a home run for the Cardinals’ only run, yet the Sox could also manage only one run. Sale left without a decision in the game, which was won in extra innings. Just to be complete, here is Sale’s stat line for 2015 through July 1:
15 games, 15 starts, 103.1 IP (76.5% of complete), 2.87 ERA, 141 K (leading AL), 22 BB, 0.968 WHIP, 12.3 K/9 IP (leading AL). Win-loss record: 6-4.
6-4?????? For the rest of those numbers, one would have to wonder if this is a misprint, because it is more indicative of 11-4.
And herein is the quandry. Chris Sale is beloved on the South Side, yet in two years when his contract comes up, he must seriously consider if Chicago is where he wants to stay. It is one thing to put up amazing numbers, but another to not get the support that is needed to win the games and be a champion. Certainly, on the open market, Sale would command Insane Texas oilman/Insane Arab sheikh prices. With that in mind, if the Sox get an inkling that Sale will not sign, it may mean at some point that the White Sox will need to consider trading this rare gemstone in hopes of getting something back in return.
Let us hope the offense comes around, and Chris Sale starts getting the support that he has more than earned.