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Should White Sox Be Concerned About Sale?

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Chris Sale has a 9.76 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in his last four starts.Apr 16, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Sale has a 9.76 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in his last four starts.Apr 16, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The White Sox Chris Sale has a 9.76 ERA and1.89 WHIP in last four starts. Should White Sox fans be concerned?

The White Sox slide began on May 10th in Texas. They led 11-6 going into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Rangers scored seven in the bottom of the eighth to win 13-11.

Chris Sale‘s slide began May 24th against Cleveland. Sale gave up six earned runs on seven hits and four walks over 3.1 innings. He struck out seven, but suffered his first loss of the season. He began the season winning his first nine starts.

Despite getting his tenth win in his last outing against Kansas City, Sale has been hit hard in his last four starts. Sale has given up 34 hits, 17 ER,  and nine walks while striking out 24 covering 22.1 innings. Seven of the ten home runs he has allowed this season were in his last six starts.

The numerous changes the White Sox have made this week won’t matter much if Sale cannot find some semblance of the dominance he was having earlier in the season.

Sale hasn’t been the same since his dominance through the first nine starts. He had a 1.19 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 62 strikeouts and ten walks in 68.1 innings.

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This comes after an up and down 2015 season. Last year was Sale’s worst in the Majors. He was 13-11 with a 3.41 ERA and 23 home runs allowed.

With a third of the season complete, Sale has give up over 40 percent of the amount of homeruns he allowed last year.

Earlier in the season, Sale had minimized the amount of pitches thrown.

Over his last four starts, Sale has averaged 19 pitches per inning and 4.1 per batter. In his first nine starts, Sale threw 14.49 pitches per inning and 3.37 per batter. His efficiency was greater earlier in the season.

Earlier this year, Sale told Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports, that he stopped overthrowing and stopped pitching angry. Posnanski listed three reasons why Sale had been more efficient through his first nine starts.

  1. His velocity is unquestionably down. According to the indispensable Brooks Baseball data, Sale is throwing his four-seam fastball, his sinker and his slider one-to-two mph slower than last year. Sale says this is by design.
  2. He has more or less stopped throwing the change-up to get strikeouts. That is his best swing-and-miss pitch (and also the pitch hitters will hit hardest if they connect). Last year, he threw the change-up about 28 percent of the time — and about 22 percent of the time with two strikes. This year, he is throwing it about half as much and almost never with two strikes.
  3. He is throwing many, many more sinkers this year. The sinker is, by far, his least effective swing-and-miss pitch. But it is his most effective pitch for getting ground balls.

Getting ground balls was a huge contributor to his efficiency. His percentage of ground balls per batter faced has also dropped significantly in his last four starts. He has only forced ground balls on 22.4 percent of hitters faced over his last four starts. When he started 9-0, Sale forced 28.9 percent of the batters he faced to hit ground balls.

If the White Sox are going to remain a contending team, they need Chris Sale to be in contention for the Cy Young award. Jose Quintana has been a great complement to Sale this season. The back end of the rotation is still a huge question mark.

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The White Sox cannot count on Carlos Rodon, James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez to give them a chance to win every time out. Most great teams have dominant pitchers at the top of their rotation.

If Sale and Quintana can go ten to 15 games above .500, Rodon, Shields and Gonzalez would likely only have to go five to ten games above .500 for the White Sox to make the playoffs.

Sale and Quintana were dominant through the first 33 games of the season.

The White Sox were 23-10 and built a season-high six game lead after those 33 games. The next game was the late inning debacle at Texas.

Their lead shrunk to 2.5 games as the White Sox went  4-9 over the next two weeks. The White Sox slide became far worse once Sale began struggling. Over the next  14 games, the White Sox would go 2-12. Their 2.5 game lead became a 3.5 game deficit.

Next: Target Options After Shields Acquisition

They have bounced back with wins in their last two games. Sale’s decline over the last three weeks is concerning. If he doesn’t start pitching better, the White Sox season will continue to free fall.

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