Chris Sale has been amazing this season. This is not exactly breaking news, but it’s always worth thinking about just how great he’s been. Sure, he missed a chance to break the record for most consecutive outings with double-digit strikeouts, but even in what was a poor start by his standards Sale was good for most of Wednesday’s start against the Rangers and electric in some of it.
Specifically, he looked like his normal self in the first inning, when he set the top part of Texas’ lineup down with a relatively easy 1-2-3 first inning. If it seems like he’s been doing that a lot, it’s because he has. In fact, in each of his first ten starts, he’s done it. Thirty batters have come up to face Sale in the first inning in 2017, and all thirty batters have been retired. It should probably go without saying that this is an unprecedented occurrence. According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, the lowest first-inning WHIP among any pitcher with at least ten starts is 0.353, a mark put up by Dave Goltz in 1972. Of course, that only counts full-season totals, not any ten-start stretch, but it still goes to show how great Sale’s starts have been. The lowest full-season WHIP, for what it’s worth, is 0.417 by Juan Marichal in 1966. Sale probably won’t keep his 0.00 WHIP for the entire season, but perhaps that all-time record in in reach.
It’s not just the WHIP that is impressive, either. Sale is getting strikeouts at a huge rate in the first inning as well. Lately, teams have been more aggressive early in counts to avoid falling behind to the Red Sox ace, but that hasn’t stopped his ability to rack up K’s. He has fourteen first-inning strikeouts in his first ten starts, giving him a rate of 12.6 per nine innings. If that were to hold up over a full season, it would be tied for the highest first-inning K/9 rate of all time, tied with Rich Harden’s 2008 season. It is worth noting that Zack Greinke is currently striking out 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings this season in the first inning.
Chris Sale has been incredible in just about every inning he’s pitched this season, but he’s been particularly impressive in the first inning. It is something to watch for in the first frame of his next few outings. If he happens to allow a base runner at any point in those outings, it will be a first for this season.