Chris Sale’s velocity drop makes him an October mystery

The AL's most dominant pitcher has never looked more vulnerable, and at a critical time

Chris Sale ended his White Sox career with five consecutive top-six finishes in Cy Young voting, so his Boston career wasn’t worth following to see if the Red Sox could somehow make him better.

He’s 29-12 with a 2.56 ERA and a whopping 545 strikeouts over 372 innings with the Red Sox. He doesn’t have a 60-start stretch in Chicago that matches that kind of run, so maybe the White Sox indeed failed to get his best out of him.

But with Sale, any true White Sox remorse was going to come in how he finished seasons. September was his weak link, and while September counts as much as April in most regards, the White Sox had such a thin margin for error that they weren’t going to be able to ever be able to ease him across the finish line and still make the postseason. They needed 30+ starts from Sale, and they couldn’t afford for him to look less than Sale-like for any extended period of time. If the Red Sox solved that issue, then you could point fingers.

Thanks to a surprising challenge by the Yankees last year, the Red Sox needed 32 starts from Sale to ensure first place. He wobbled in September and didn’t impress in his first postseason start, so the Red Sox went back to the drawing board.

When Sale hit the disabled list at the start of August with “shoulder inflammation,” Sale sounded casual about it, so I half-assumed it might be the Red Sox using a huge division lead to give Sale a rest in an attempt to avoid the September swoon. He came out of that break striking out 12 over five one-hit innings against Baltimore, and on just 68 pitches. His first-ever Cy Young looked secure.

Then he went right back on the disabled list, and has been limited to starts of 1, 3, 3⅓ and 4⅔ innings since returning in September. The good news is that he’s struck out 15 over those last eight innings.

The bad news?

Sale’s average fastball measured just 90.2 mph his last time out, during which he gave up three runs over those 4⅔ innings, which is a career low even dating back to the deadest of his dead-arm periods with the White Sox.

Sale and manager Alex Cora have said the issue isn’t with his shoulder, but with his mechanics. Cora said Sale’s “not firing his hips the way he usually does,” and Sale said he wasn’t able to “create that torque that I have in the past.” A Boston Globe report says his extension has been all over the place over these two months.

It’s not difficult to generate concern/panic in Boston, but Sale’s not one to feed it with his quotes, even though the drop in velocity is huge. That said, the validity of this statement

“Once those lights flick on in October, I’ll be there.”

… will be judged fairly quickly. If it doesn’t go the way he planned, he may wear it in more ways than one if he’s wrong.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Willardmarshall

Does Rodon also belong in the concern-about-velo-decline discussion?

Patrick Nolan

He experiences a slight tail-off in September, but nothing compared to what we’re seeing with Sale.

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/velo.php?player=607074&time=&startDate=03/30/2007&endDate=09/28/2018&s_type=2

DrewB1983

I am going to venture a guess that Sale has a partially torn rotaor cuff and the antiinflammatories that he has taken for past 60-90 days hurt his stomach and that’s why the hospital stay. His starts and decrease of velocity, inning by inning point at this. He feels good first inning, but as pain meds and NSAIDS where off, inflammation and pain get worse and this is would cause him to loose pitch location and velocity. Being partially torn, he could still pitch, but surgery would be inevitable at season’s end. This is my opinion, what do you think?

As Cirensica

I wouldn’t be surprised that part of the velocity drop is due the “mental” effect of being already in the post season, and not wanting to strain the arm more than needed to be ready for the post season.