Is Chris Sale on pace to make the Hall of Fame?
As Chris Sale recorded his 1,000th strikeout and nearly set the Chicago White Sox franchise record for strikeouts in a season, I began to wonder if the young left-hander is on a collision course with Cooperstown. Sitting two strikouts shy of that franchise record set by Ed Walsh in 1908 (269) following Thursday’s game against the New York Yankees. Being 26 years old and having been a full time starter in only four of his six seasons, he is well on pace for a 3,000 strikeout career. He has never averaged less than a strikeout per inning in any of his major league seasons and has made hitters look silly since his rookie year. Minnesota Twins star Joe Mauer claimed the most uncomfortable he ever felt against any pitcher at any level was against the White Sox ace. Its not difficult to see why; all the limbs coming at you from multiple angles I can only imagine standing in a batter’s box with him on the mound.
The comparisons to Randy Johnson have been there since he entered the league, and it is more than being tall, skinny, and lefty. Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com goes in depth on the Sale-Big Unit comparison but some highlights between the White Sox top draft pick in 2010 and the first-ballot Hall of Famer from the University of Southern California including the power fastball, the strikeouts, the sweeping slider, the strikeouts, the 3/4 arm slot delivery, and lots of strikeouts. Did I mention the strikeouts? Johnson ranks second all-time for punch-outs with 4,875 over 22 seasons in the big leagues (271 per season). Sale won’t pitch enough innings to top those numbers, as he also averaged 230 innings, with a high of 271.2 in his 1999 Cy Young Award winning season as an Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher. The two have nearly identical K/9 ratios with the younger southpaw a tick below at 10.3 to the elder’s 10.6 career mark.
Sale shouldn’t start writing in speech yet but the key will be staying healthy and maybe getting a better offense behind him to boost the win totals. His sabermetric numbers will certainly aid his cause if those who favor such statistics garner more votes in the half-decade following Sale’s eventual retirement. Sale has slowed down on throwing the slider to help keep his elbow ligaments in tact, as Castrovince notes in his article, but has not seen the dip in strikeouts one might expect from lessening the usage of his best pitch. Instead, he has learned to pitch more as opposed to throw past hitters, mixing his fastball and change-up more and unleashing the slider only when he needs to intimidate a hitter or get a key strikeout. At the rate he is pitching though, Chris Sale is well on his way to getting a plaque in upstate New York if this is only the one-third mark of his career. Hopefully he spends all of it on the Southside of Chicago.