For such an established star, starting pitcher Chris Sale has a lot to prove in 2019. The lefty was amazing when on the mound, posting a 2.11 ERA and a 1.98 FIP. His strikeout rate was the highest of his career and his walk rate stayed just below two batters per nine innings. However, a shoulder injury took away the majority of Sale’s second half. Alex Cora is all about conserving his starters and trying to keep his players healthy, so can Sale put together a dominant full season in 2019?
Boston Red Sox 2019 Preview: Chris Sale
2018 was a tale of two seasons for Chris Sale. In the first half of the season, Sale was easily the best pitcher in the American League. Pitching in 129.0 innings, Sale recorded a 2.23 ERA and a 2.18 FIP through the first half of the season. His 13.1 K/9 was one of the best in baseball, and his 2.2 BB/9 showed his elite command.
Sale’s best stretch of the season came during a seven-start stretch where he pitched 44 innings while allowing just one run and seven walks while striking out 79 batters. His ERA over the timeframe was an absurd 0.20 and his FIP was an equally outrageous 0.18. This stretch was unrivaled by just about anyone and made him the frontrunner for the American League Cy Young.
Sale is a three-pitch pitcher, and each one is an elite offering. His fastball can hit triple digits, his slider is among the best in baseball, and his changeup possesses deceptive motion. The lefty should be healthy for the start of the season and will remain the ace of an incredibly talented pitching staff.
Everyone knows how good Chris Sale can be when he’s healthy. However, the biggest issue with Sale is keeping him healthy and at his best. Sale pitched just 129 innings last season, with just 29 of said innings coming in the second half of the season. The lefty returned for the postseason, but he clearly wasn’t himself. Pitching in four games, Sale allowed seven runs in 15.1 innings pitched (three starts). He was so worn down at the end of the season that manager Alex Cora opted to start David Priceon short rest over Sale in Game Five of the World Series.
Unfortunately, 2018 wasn’t an isolated incident for Sale. While he normally pitches later into his season, his effectiveness almost always drops later on in the year. Over the course of his career, Sale has a 3.78 ERA and a 3.78 FIP when pitching in September. In all other months, Sale has a 2.72 ERA and a 2.68 FIP.
Sale has logged 238 innings pitched in September, so this isn’t an anomaly based on a small sample size. Generally speaking, pitchers don’t get more durable as they get older, and are actually more susceptible to fatigue. Entering a contract year, Sale will need to prove he’s capable of pitching at an elite level of the course of a full season.
Per Steamer Projections, Chris Sale is expected to pitch 202 innings in 2019 to the tune of a 2.76 ERA and a 2.11 FIP. As expected, Steamer expects Sale to strike out batters at an elite rate (12.25 K/9) while minimizing free passes (1.94 BB/9). By and large, these numbers all look correct, as Sale is one of the best pitchers in the game.
The most interesting number is the 202 projected innings. As previously discussed, Sale tends to wear down over the course of the season and only pitched 129 innings throughout 2018. Because of this, some might not think Sale will be able to make it to 202 innings.
On the other hand, Sale does have a history of thrwing that many innings. Sale crossed the 200 marker in every season from 2015 to 2017, and also did it back in 2013. There’s reportedly no structural damage to his shoulder, and the lefty should enter 2019 at full strength.
Ultimately, I’m going to take the under on the overall innings count. I’m not questioning Sale’s ability to make it to the end of the season, but rather Alex Cora’s conservation strategy. Cora showed that he believes in giving guys rest whenever possible and maximizing health for the postseason. Cora already announced the Red Sox will use a six-man starting rotation out of the gate, and he’s sure to constantly monitor Sale’s inning count. Sale should make it to the end of the year, but look for him to finish with 170 or 180 innings pitched.
According to our Twitter results, you guys are torn on the issue.
Next question in our projection series: will Chris Sale reach 200 innings pitched?
— Red Sox Unfiltered (@bosoxunfiltered) January 6, 2019