Chris Sale making all kinds of history with run of stellar starts

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Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Monday, June 8, 2015 in Chicago. | AP Photo/Paul Beaty

One month ago today Chris Sale had a 5.93 ERA and was struggling to strike out batters on a consistent basis.

In his last six starts, though, Sale has lowered his ERA by more than two points. He has struck out 67 batters in 46 2/3 innings and walked just seven batters during that same stretch.

His 14 strikeouts Monday against the Astros marked his fourth consecutive game with double-digit punchouts. He’s the first White Sox pitcher to throw three straight games of a dozen or more strikeouts and the first to throw four straight games with 10 or more, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Sale also joins Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers since 1900 to strike out 12 batters in three consecutive games while allowing no more than one run in each game.

How has Sale done it?

The left-hander is making batters swing and miss at historic rates. He became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002 to induce 20 swings-and-misses in four straight starts.

In fact, the horizontal movement on Sale’s fastball most closely resembles that of Johnson.

Check out this data from the Washington Post of horizontal movement on four-seam fastballs:

As the Post points out, hitters are batting .177 against Sale with 46 strikeouts on 102 at-bats ending with his four-seam fastball.

Sale has thrived by mixing up his fastball and changeup with a a velocity difference of up to 20 mph.

That’s what Sox skipper Robin Ventura pointed out after Monday night’s start:

“His ability to go hard and soft is really what makes him tough,’’Ventura said. “When a guy has to cover 97 [mph] and also gets an 82, it’s tough to cover that. I don’t care how good a slider is, if his fastball and changeup are good he’s going to be tough.’’

Check out Sale’s pitch speeds last night, via BrooksBaseball.net.

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For comparison’s sake, here’s Jeff Samardzija’s pitch speed graph from Sunday, when he got knocked around for six runs by the Tigers.

What’s also remarkable about Sale’s numbers these last few games is how few pitches he’s needing per inning.

On Monday he threw 15 or fewer pitches in six of his eight innings. Three of those innings even had 10 pitches or less.

That sort of efficiency is incredible when coupled with Sale’s high strikeout rates.

For your enjoyment, here’s a little mixtape from MLB.com of Sale’s strikeouts these last few games. It’s amazing how far from contact hitters are on his pitches.

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