Why Is Chicago White Sox Left-Hander Chris Sale Sprinting to the Finish?

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Why Is Chicago White Sox Left-Hander Chris Sale Sprinting to the Finish?
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Chris Sale is having another remarkable season.

Following Wednesday's 12-strikeout performance against the Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale (10-12, 2.99 ERA) said something quite curious, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin

My arm feels loose, my body feels good, Sale said. Something [White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] and I have talked about is last year I kind of limped across the finish line. This one, he's like, 'Let's sprint across at the end of the year.' It's something I'm working toward and trying to do.

Sale's quote was put into the context of his fade down the stretch in 2012. In July and August last season, for example, his ERA went from 3.77 to 3.55, before going up to 4.11 in the final month.

To be sure, there is certainly room to improve upon last year’s finish, but the quote raises two questions. First off, is Sale heading into the final month of the 2013 season with more momentum than last year? And if not, why is he worried about a “sprint” across the finish line?

The answer to answer the first question will depend on whose statistics you use.

If FanGraphs.com was referenced, for instance, Sale was a better pitcher last season. They have his 2012 win probability added (WPA) at 3.22 and his WAR at 4.8, while in 2013, he has a 2.76 WPA and 4.4 WAR.

Baseball-Reference.com, on the other hand, has Sale's 2012 wins above average (WAA) at 4.1 and final WAR at 5.9. That is lower than the 4.7 WAA and 6.3 WAR they've presently compiled for him.  

So FanGraphs posits that the left-hander was better in his first year as a starter, while B-R argues the opposite.

To further muddle the situation, let’s look at some of Sale’s monthly splits in July and August from the past two seasons beginning with July. 

  GS IP W-L ERA R K BB WHIP BAA BAbip
'12 4 28.2 3-1 3.77 12 20  7 1.212  .264 .306 
'13 4 30.2  1-3  2.35  35  1.207  .254 .338 

 

Now here are his August numbers.

  GS IP W-L ERA R K BB WHIP BAA BAbip
'12 33.0  3-2  3.55  13  41  1.212  .254 .312 
'13 43.1  4-2  3.95  19  44  1.223  .269 .322 

 

It must be pointed out that while there is only a slight variation in his stat line, most notably July's ERA, Sale has altered his approach. Here is FanGraphs.com's breakdown of each of his primary pitches—fastball (FB), slider (SL) and changeup (CH)—as they relate to percentage thrown (PT), velocity (V) and overall swing percentage (OSP) from 2012 and 2013.

  FB-PT  FB-V SL-PT SL-V CH-PT CH-V  OSP    
'12 60.1 91.6 26.2 78.6 13.7 82.1  45.3    
'13 51.2 93.0 29.5 78.5 19.3 82.6  44.7    

 

So the raw statistics are remarkably similar. Sure, there is some fluctuation, and he has changed his pitch selection up a bit, but Sale is much the same pitcher he was last season heading into September.

That leads us to the second question. If there is no statistically discernible difference this year—sans the victories, of course—then why wouldn't the White Sox rest him? Why not give him a few days off as this anti-climactic season reaches its nadir.

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After all, if he makes six more starts and continues to pitch to his averages—7.2 innings and 109 pitches per start—Sale will log a total of 223.0 innings and throw 3,371 pitches this year. That would be well in excess of 2012, when he tossed 192.0 innings threw 3019 pitches.

It will not do anyone any good to continue to run him out there every fifth day.

With Erik Johnson and Charlie Leesman as potential September call-ups, per the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane, the coaching staff will have the ability to work the starters every six days or so.

Forget sprinting, Cooper, and saddle the enthusiasm a bit, Sale.

You are as good as you were last season, regardless of what the victory totals looks like. Continue to work on your craft, but there is no need to tempt fate and risk injury.

 

All statistical evidence is courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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