July is an odd time for predictions in baseball. Usually, those are saved for March (preseason) and September (postseason). Well here is a doubling-down on a prediction from March, I suppose. Chris Sale is going to win the American League Cy Young Award, an honor that has somehow slipped through his fingers in each of the last six seasons. Since 2012, Sale has been among the top six vote-getters for the trophy, but has come up short every time, including a runner-up finish last season. After what he did to the Yankees on Saturday, there’s no more doubt that he will finally break through this year.
Let’s talk about that start in New York for a second. Sale went out and hurled seven innings of nearly perfect baseball. He allowed two base runners, surrendering one hit and one walk. He also struck out 11 batters, marking his third-straight start of seven innings and at least 11 strikeouts. Its one thing to have such an effort against the Mariners or Twins (who were the two teams he faced prior to the Yankees this past Saturday), but its an entirely different thing to do it to New York, which leads all of baseball in wRC+. He struck out Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres six times combined, held Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar hitless and only allowed a single to Giancarlo Stanton, whom he later fanned during a three-strikeout sixth inning, doing so with a 99 mph fastball.
Chris Sale, I'm Just Gonna Throw this Right By You Face (and 99mph FB) pic.twitter.com/ZQ1z1ObvAZ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 1, 2018
That punchhout speaks to one of the many incredible developments for Sale, who has been firing absolute fire, especially deeper in games and as the season has progressed.
But just throwing hard isn’t why Sale should be the frontrunner for the Cy Young award. There are really about six or seven serious candidates right now: New York’s Luis Severino, Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, Houston’s Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and Seattle’s James Paxton.
Kluber, who bested him a year ago, is behind Sale in most categories, even if he is walking fewer batters. Bauer is having a breakout year, but regression could be headed his way. Paxton has allowed more runs and has a much lower ground ball rate than the Red Sox’s ace. Cole had an incredible start to the season, but has slowed a bit over his last six starts, posting a 4.41 FIP in that time. Verlander is an ageless wonder, but only has a 29.3 percent groundball rate which could eventually cause that 2.12 ERA to creep northward. Severino is the player with the best argument against Sale, having a superior ERA and FIP plus a league-leading 13 wins.
Everyone of those guys has a legitimate shot at the Cy Young crown, but Sale is hitting a groove that, if it carries on for the next three months, will carry him to the promised land. Aside from leading all of those pitchers (and all pitchers in the AL) in strikeouts per nine innings and xFIP for the whole season, over the last 30 days, no pitcher in the AL has a lower FIP mark than Sale (0.97) while he continues to strike out batters at a league-leading rate.
There is still a lot of baseball left to be played of course, and Sale did fade some down the stretch last year, but right now, even though some have come close, nobody is pitching as well as him in the American League.
Rick Porcello smashed a three-run double off the best pitcher in the National League last night. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
Mookie Betts can do everything. (Ian Browne; MLB.com)
Alex Cora outmaneuvered Dave Martinez. (Dave Schoenfield; ESPN)
While baseball is the prominent sport for the Red Sox, the World Cup is of interest to many on the team as well. (Jen McCaffrey; The Athletic) ($$)
Michael Chavis is back from suspension. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)