When you think about the dominant starting pitchers year in and year out in the MLB, the names that come to mind are: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. Sale has arguably been the most dominant of the four this season. Chris Sale has led the Boston Red Sox to 1st place in the AL East, currently 4 games up in the division, in the midst of a 7-game win streak.
So let’s get into the impressive stats that Sale has put up this season. He is leading the AL in just about every pitching category. Sale is 14-4 with a 2.57 ERA and 229 strikeouts. He is first in wins, carriers the lowest ERA among qualified pitchers and has the most strikeouts (40 more than Archer who is in 2nd). Every 5th day, Sale gets the ball and I am confident the Sox will get a W. He’s been consistent and reliable all season, leading the AL in innings pitched as well, with 161.1. To put those stats into better measures, Sale averages 7 innings per start with 9.95 strikeouts. Being able to pencil Sale in almost start for 7 innings and close to double digit strikeouts is amazing. Some other first place categories for Sale: WHIP (0.88), opponents average (.193), K:BB (7.90) and K/9 (12.77). So pretty much every AL pitching category has Sale atop the rankings. Impressive, I know.
Here’s some sabermetrics for all you advanced stats junkies because that’s what baseball is all about these days. Sale has the highest WAR in the AL at 5.3. People now value WAR above just about every category, as we saw Mike Trout beat Mookie Betts out for MVP last season, and WAR was a big reason why. Sale has a win above average number 0f 3.8, showing how much value he is adding to the Red Sox club. Sale is also first in the AL in Sit. Wins Saved (WPA/LI) at 4.0, which is a win expectancy version WAR. Enough with the advanced stats though, Sale is awesome, you can tell just by watching the towering lefty dominate every start.
Red Sox fans want to compare his season with First Ballot Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. Most people want to compare Sale’s season with Pedro’s first season in Boston. Mainly because the adjustment that occurs when players head to Boston and have to pitch in one of the biggest markets in the league. Pedro went 19-7, had an ERA of 2.89, with 251 strikeouts in 1998, his first season in Boston. Yeah, his first season with the Sox wasn’t his best one, but he still finished second in the Cy Young voting, which is impressive making the change from Motreal to Boston. Pedro is one of the best pitchers of all time, so for Sale to have comparable numbers is insane.
Another player worth comparing to Chris Sale, is fellow lengthy left-hander, Randy Johnson. Since Sale has yet to win a Cy Young, I’ll compare The Big Unit’s first award to Sale’s current season. Johnson won his first award in 1995, when he went 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 294 strikeouts across 214.1 innings. Okay, we all know how filthy Johnson was, and he killed a bird with a pitch too. Sale has about 9 starts left this season. Averaging 7 innings each start and 9.95 strikeouts per start, like I mentioned earlier, Sale is on pace to pitch 224.1 innings and strikeout 319 batters! Both marks would beat out Johnson’s numbers. Clearly Sale cannot replicate the 18-2 record, as he’s currently at 14-4, but Sale could become a 20-game winner, and he may not lose another start this season.
The fact that Chris Sale is on pace to strikeout 319 hitters is crazy. After pitching for the horrendous White Sox, Sale came to Boston and has pitched way beyond expectations. He’s must-see action whenever he takes the ball. Between his upper-90’s fastball and his wipeout slider, opposing hitters do not stand a chance.
Chris Sale is the clear AL Cy Young frontrunner. His competition just lies with Corey Kluber, who has also had himself a dominant season for the Indians at 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA and 183 strikeouts. Kluber is second in most pitching categories in the AL, behind Sale. Imagine if the Sox rematch with the Indians again in the playoffs and game 1 we get spoiled with the Cy Young winner and runner-up? What an entertaining game and series that would be.
Chris Sale is my pick for the Cy Young this season. After finishing in the top-6 of voting for 5 straight seasons, I believe this is the year he finally wins. But is the Cy Young the only recognition Sale should receive in a year of utter domination? In my opinion, Sale deserves MVP votes. The Red Sox could potentially be in last place of the AL East if they did not have Chris Sale. Okay, maybe they’d be in 4th, still ahead of the Blue Jays. What Sale has done for the Red Sox this year has been incredible. Until recently, the Sox offense had been fluttered with inconsistency, lack of ability to hit home runs and they struggled with leaving men on base. With the other members of the rotation, the Sox offensive struggles was a concern, as opponents could score 2 runs and still beat the Red Sox. But with Sale on the mound, all the Sox have to do is get him 1 run and that would be enough. He is the main reason the Red Sox are 4 games up in the AL East.
When I say he deserves MVP votes, I’m not saying I think he should win the award. I understand how difficult and rare it is for pitchers to win both a Cy Young and an MVP award. Kershaw was the last to do so in 2014, and had been the first NL pitcher to take both awards home since Bob Gibson in 1968. The last AL pitcher to win a Cy Young and MVP was Justin Verlander in 2011. Dennis Eckersley won both in 1992 as a relief pitcher, which is crazy impressive. So for a pitcher to win a Cy Young and MVP does not happen often.
When I think of AL MVP this season the names that come to mind are: Jose Altuve, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. I honestly believe that Chris Sale is in the same tier as those guys. In my opinion, besides those first three names, I don’t think anyone else has been as dominant or impressive as Sale has in the AL this season. Who knows, maybe Sale could even edge out Judge in votes, who has seen his average take a pretty big hit since the Home Run Derby. Granted he’s still sitting at .297, but maybe this slump continues throughout the remainder of the year. My vote as of now for AL MVP would be Altuve, who has been nasty all season long and has been the best player on the best team in the AL. However, Sale is looking like he’ll be in the MVP contention this season, as he certainly should be. I could see a top-4 finish in the MVP voting for Sale.
Chris Sale is looking like he’s primed to win 20+ games this season. He’s on pace to pitch around 224 innings, which is right around his career mark in 2016 of 226.2 innings. But what stands out most is his strikeout numbers. On pace to finally join the 300 club, Sale is looking like he’ll strikeout around 319 batters this year, while enjoying his highest K/9 rate of his career at 12.8.
I think Chris Sale has the floor of winning the AL Cy Young this season, if he keeps up this pace he has throughout the season then he’s a lock for the award in my mind. So if Cy Young is his floor, what’s his ceiling? MVP is the ceiling, and he’s gunning for it. His flat out dominance has put the Red Sox in 1st place of the AL East. He is performing like an MVP would, as every time he gets the ball, every Sox fan feels relieved, as the team is primed for a win. He puts fear into opposing players. I’m sure his opponents are thrilled if they even foul a ball off, that’s how nasty his stuff is. An MVP is someone who brings the most value to a team with their play. Well, in my mind, Chris Sale has taken this Red Sox team to 1st place, and should take them into the playoffs, getting handed the ball in game 1 of the ALDS. Sale is a psycho on the mound and his dominance throughout the entirety of this season is Cy Young Award worthy, and even worthy of MVP contention. Anything can happen in baseball, which is what makes this game so crazy. I currently think Altuve will win MVP, but a couple more showings like Sale had last night against the Rays of 8 innings, 13 K’s, only allowing 2 hits, he could overstep the rest of the AL, taking both the Cy Young Award and an MVP.
Follow Drew Tanguay on Twitter: @DTang10