BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
For the Sun-Times
Seemingly with every start, White Sox left-hander Chris Sale increases his collection of gaudy numbers.
The latest came Sunday,
when he struck out 12 batters in 6⅔ innings of a 2-1 loss to the Rays. It was Sale’s fourth consecutive game with 12 or more strikeouts. Among available game-by-game records dating to 1914, that trails only streaks of five in a row by Randy Johnson in 1998 and Pedro Martinez in 1999. Martinez also had four-game streaks in 1997 and 2001.
A couple of other streaks were broken. Because the Rays scored twice, it ended Sale’s three-game streak with double figures in strikeouts and no more than one run allowed — something only Sandy Koufax had done earlier. And because he fanned ‘‘only’’ 12, it snapped a streak in which he became the first pitcher in the modern era to increase his strikeout total four games in a row while striking out at least 10 in each game.
Behind those numbers are some underpinnings that are every bit as impressive. In an article at FanGraphs.com (available at http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/chris-sale-and-death-by-diversity/), Jeff Sullivan used data from BaseballProspectus.com’s
Pitch F/X report and found opposing batters had swing-and-miss rates of greater than 15 percent on Sale’s four-seam fastball, changeup and slider. Only two other pitchers broke 15 percent on three pitches: the Indians’ Corey Kluber and the Mets’ Matt Harvey.
That ability to miss bats with multiple pitches has helped Sale get 20 or more swings-and-misses in five consecutive starts, including 26 by the Rays on Sunday.
Last season, Sale posted a 2.17 ERA that was second in the American League to the 2.14 of the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez. So far this season, Sale is at 3.01, 11th among AL qualifiers.
By sabermetric numbers, Sale is looking elite once again. FIP — fielding independent pitching, which evaluates pitchers by strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed to filter out the effects of team defense — has Sale third in the AL at 2.49, behind the Rays’ Chris Archer at 2.07 and Kluber at 2.46.
FIP has become a popular tool for evaluating pitchers. Last season, when Kluber was 18-9 and topped Hernandez (15-6) for the AL Cy Young Award, his 2.44 ERA was three-tenths of a run worse than Hernandez’s. Several voters said they were swayed by FIP, where Kluber was at 2.35 and Hernandez at 2.57. Sale was right with them at 2.56, but he made eight fewer starts than the 34 each by Kluber and Hernandez. All had Cy Young-caliber performance level, but Kluber and Hernandez had added value with more starts.
By Baseball Prospectus’ new deserved-run average, Sale ranks fourth in the AL at 2.46, behind the Athletics’ Sonny Gray at 1.58, the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel at 1.78 and Archer at 1.99. In DRA, the situations a pitcher faces are adjusted for context, such as park effects, specific batters, the catcher, the plate umpire and more.
By every measure — and by the numbers behind the numbers — Sale is one of the majors’ elite. His eye-popping strikeout streak is icing on the cake.