By Sterling Pingree
There is exactly one month left in the Major League Baseball season, or 28 games, or even more precisely 6 more Chris Sale starts. A couple of week ago, I would’ve said that we could save some time and just deliver the Cy Young award to his house already. Two straight losses prior to this week and Corey Kluber pitching like every game is a playoff game (for him that’s a good thing, for David Price that’s an “INF” where your ERA should be) the race has tightened up. The weather has been fantastic in New England for the past month, so I’ll push my luck and attempt to forecast Sale’s performance over the final month and determine whether or not a Cy Young is in the cards.
As the rotation currently stands, Sale would start 6 more times this season: Sunday against the Yankees, September 9th at home against Tampa, September 15th at Tampa, at Baltimore September 20th, home for Toronto September 26th and home against Houston on October 1st. My question when looking at the schedule was whether or not Sale would pitch the season finale against Houston. At that point you hope that the Red Sox could have a playoff spot locked up and wouldn’t need to push to the very end, especially against the top team in the AL who you would imagine correctly, would be resting it’s starters in game 162. We saw last year the value of being able to set up your rotation properly for the playoffs and you wouldn’t think that Sale pitching the last game the season would be conducive to that. BUT the first playoff game the Red Sox would play, if they win the division, would be Thursday, October 5th, or Friday the 6th if they somehow became the top seed. That’s four or five days’ rest, even if you were to pitch Sale the final in the final game. The Red Sox have two off days during September, so there is a chance that Sale could get in all 6 starts if they skipped somebody’s turn in the rotation and then could have Sale on regular rest to start the playoffs while still pitching him in the final weekend.
Chris Sale 15-6, 2.77 ERA, 264 Ks, .91 WHIP
Corey Kluber 13-4, 2.63 ERA, 215 Ks, .89 WHIP
A lot has been made of Sale’s strike out numbers and with good reason, he has been on a pace to strike out 300 batters for the first time in the American League since Pedro Martinez in 1999. Looking at the numbers above, this seems to be where the separation between these two hurlers is. With the same amount of starts remaining and a continued devaluing of wins and losses, strike outs seems to be the clearest line of delineation. Operating under the assumption that Sale will NOT pitch in the final series of the season vs Houston, he will pitch 5 times and face 4 teams, all in the AL East, that he has pitched very well against this season.
Vs. New York 4 starts, 0-2, 29.2 innings, 44 strike outs, 2.12 ERA
Vs. Toronto 3 starts, 2-0, 22 innings, 35 strikes outs, 2 walks, 0.00 ERA
Vs. Tampa 4 starts, 3-1, 29 innings, 49 strike outs, 2.48 ERA
Vs. Baltimore 2 starts, 2-0, 14 innings, 20 strike outs, 3.21 ERA
Breaking this down further, Sale averages more than 7 innings per start against each of these teams and averages about 1.5 strike outs per inning. To project his strike out numbers, I multiplied his strike out averages per inning, by the average number of innings that he’s pitched against each team this season.
Vs New York, 7 innings, 1.5 k’s per inning, 10.5 strike outs per start
Vs Toronto, 7.3 innings, 1.59 k’s per inning, 11.65 strike outs per start
Vs Baltimore, 7 innings, 1.4 k’s per inning, 9.8 strike outs per start
Vs Tampa Bay, 7.25 innings, 1.69 k’s per inning, 12.25 strike outs per start
Take into account that Chris Sale will face Tampa Bay twice in September, a team that he averages more than 12 strike outs per start against. If we total up these averages it would mean that off of past performance, Sale will strike out 56 batters over his final 5 starts. Add that to the 264 he has whiffed already, and it gives us a total of 320 strike outs which would put him one ahead of Curt Schilling’s 1997 season for the 39th most in a single season all time, and just 3 behind Lady Baldwin who struck out 323 for the 1886 Detroit Wolverines. (In my research, I found that this was the pitching staff for the 1886 Detroit Wolverines: Lady Baldwin, Pretzels Getzien, Pete Conway, Billy Smith, Hardy Richardson, Larry Twitchell and Phenomenal Smith. How isn’t there a 30 for 30 about Lady, Pretzels, Hardy and Phenomenal?) 320 would also be good for 15th most in a season since 1904 and the 7th most in the American League behind only five seasons by Nolan Ryan and one from Bob Feller. That’s pretty elite company. (If you’re wondering, the most strike outs in a single season according to BaseballReference.com is Matt Kilroy at 513 in 1886 for the Baltimore Orioles, followed by the great Toad Ramsey who struck out 499 that same year for the Louisville Colonels. By the way, Kilroy was 20 that season, while Toad was a mature 21.)
In the end, if Chris Sale strikes out 300 and doesn’t implode in any other area this month, he’ll win the Cy Young award. Seeing how rare it is for a pitcher to strike out 300 batters will be almost impossible for voters to ignore which means that after 6 seasons of being an elite pitcher, there will be a Cy Young for Sale.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.