Fantasy Baseball: Well, Chris Sale is Randy Johnson now — and he's chasing history
Did you notice Chris Sale is throwing harder than ever before? He is, and it's putting him in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball.
We've seen Chris Sale perform like this before. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for nearly a decade, and he's the closest thing we've seen to Randy Johnson since the Big Unit himself, if not in terms of sheer dominance, at least aesthetically.
That Sale has a 2.23 ERA through 20 starts is astounding, but it's not unprecedented. He had a 20-start stretch in 2014 with a 1.92 ERA. Even his 0.94 ERA over his past seven starts isn't unprecedented, nor is the 43.1 percent strikeout rate, as this chart of his seven-game rolling averages since he became a starting pitcher show:
It's not noteworthy that Chris Sale is good. What you might not realized amidst this most recent run of dominance is that Sale has become more like Randy Johnson than ever before.
Yep. That's Chris Sale. Throwing 100 mph. It's terrifying. And new.
From 2012 through 2017, Sale threw zero pitches at 100 mph or more, according to BaseballSavant.com. In 2018, he's done it six times. That's a not a huge change, but it paints a pretty clear picture: Sale is throwing harder than he ever has before. He's thrown 47 pitches at 99 mph are higher in 2018; he had thrown just 16 such pitches in his previous six full seasons.
And it's not just a few random pitches, as Sale is consistently throwing harder than he ever has. He has averaged 97 mph with his fastball in just nine career starts, per BrooksBaseball.com, and eight of them have come in 2018. And it pretty much happened overnight, as Sale's velocity was actually a tick down early in the season, until he topped 97 on average for the first time in five years on May 6 against the Rangers. Since that start, Sale is averaging 96.6 mph with his fastball, fourth among starters in that time. Here is his average fastball velocity for every start of his career:
Sale has never wanted for velocity, obviously, and at times, he's seemingly intentionally dialed it back to improve his ability to pitch deep into games, so we know he can be effective at pretty much any velocity. However, as obvious as it is that he doesn't need to throw like Luis Severino to get those kinds of results, it's just as obvious that this only makes him even more intimidating.
Sale has struck out 13.1 batters per nine innings this season, the best mark of his career and a mark that would stand as the third-best of all time. Of course, he posted the fourth-best mark of all time a year ago, so this isn't much of an improvement. However, his performance since the velocity spike is reaching historic levels. He's struck out 14.1 batters per nine over his last 13 starts, better than Randy Johnson's record 13.41 mark set in 2001.
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If Sale starts every fifth game for the Red Sox after the All-Star break and sustains his post-velocity spike numbers, he would finish the season with 336 strikeouts in 222 innings. That raw number would give him the 10th-most in MLB history, and the pace would put him at 13.6 K/9 — an MLB record.
So, Chris Sale's always been good. That's not news. However, he's always been on the fringes of the best pitcher in baseball discussion, but never really in the heart of it — he has six straight top-six finishes in Cy Young, with just one finish higher than second.
This is a new version of Sale, and a better one. And that new version has him chasing history – and potentially putting himself into the discussion for the No. 1 pitcher in Fantasy.
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