After the Red Sox’s rotation got off to a hot start, they’ve cooled down in a major way as the season has progressed. Starting pitching has become something a weak point for the team, and two of the five starters on the opening day staff are now in the bullpen. Nathan Eovaldi has been the rotation’s cornerstone from day one, but he’s about it. Eduardo Rodriguez has been as inconsistent as they come, and Nick Pivetta is struggling down the stretch with a 5.59 second half ERA. Enter: Chris Sale.
Sale’s return came at just the right time, and boy has he been a sight for sore eyes. After he’s been on the shelf for two full years, just having the opportunity to watch him again has been awesome. He’s looked great so far, but is the stuff still there? Has anything changed from his pre-surgery numbers? Let’s dive in.
Firstly, it looks like Sale has just about built back up into handling a starter’s workload. The team have been careful with him, as he steadily went through five starts in the minors and was limited to fewer than 90 pitches in his first three major-league starts. However, last Wednesday he threw 95 pitches over six innings, and it appears he’s ready to be (safely) unleashed. Notably, guys like Luis Severino and Noah Syndergaard, who were diagnosed with Tommy John around the same time as Sale, have still yet to get back on a major-league mound. Not every situation is the same, but it speaks to how well the Red Sox have dealt with his injury and rehab.
Sale’s velocity is also a major factor in his post-surgery evaluation. Through 25 innings, his fastball velo is right there steady with his 2019 season. Most importantly, the velocity has been consistent in every start. At the beginning of the 2019 season, his velocity was fluctuating in a big way, even dipping into the 80’s at one point. Perhaps it was just early-season rust that year, but his velo’s steadiness tells me his arm is in a better place.
I think I was most curious about how Sale’s spin rates would look compared to his prior seasons. Sale was obviously absent for the foreign substance ban, so he missed any potential overreactions to spin rate drops. Interestingly, Sale’s slider is down over 250 RPM’s, and his fastball is down over 100 RPM’s from his last season. This doesn’t seem particularly important, as his whiff rates for both pitches are solid and in line with previous years, but it’s at least something to note.
A final thing to note is Sale’s newfound reliance on his fastball. It’s only been five starts, but he’s throwing his four-seam fastball more than half of the time for the first time in his career, seemingly because he’s tabled his sinker. It’s too early to tell whether this is good or bad, but the results have been there over his first 25 innings. An xERA (expected ERA) of 3.04 and a swing-and-miss rate that would rank in the top-10 among qualified starters will certainly play. Sale looks healthy, and he looks ready to anchor the staff down the stretch.