Remember when Chris Sale didn't have a breaking ball?
Sunday provided yet another sign that this year's White Sox are far more fun to follow than the 2011 version: Three Sox made the American League All-Star team, and it should have been five.
Chris Sale, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn will represent the White Sox in Kansas City (at least on paper). Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski are on the outside looking in, although both have a shot. Peavy earned a spot on the Final Man ballot, while Pierzynski might get a chance when the inevitable wave of injuries and excuses force roster changes.
Last year, Carlos Quentin was the lone representative on the initial roster, and Konerko won the Final Man vote. Nobody else was really in the running. So regardless of which Sox actually take part in the game this season, their place in these discussions, whether as All-Stars or snubs, means that they're doing something right.
Chris Sale: 9-2, 2.27 ERA, 95.1 IP, 24 BB, 94 K, .198 BAA, 0.97 WHIP
On the subway to Yankee Stadium on Friday, I heard one Yankee fan express relief that Chris Sale wasn't scheduled to pitch in the series.
My first thought was, "Yes, Chris Sale would probably be a great match against a lefty-heavy offense."
My second thought: "Hey, the White Sox have a pitcher that intimidates opposing fans!"
That feeling is familiar to us. The Sox haven't faced Justin Verlander in any of their first eight games with Detroit, which is incredible. When CC Sabathia went on the DL, the outlook for Friday's game improved dramatically. Johan Santana. Jered Weaver. You know the guys.
The Sox have had some good-to-great pitching in recent years, but their quality was far easier to discern at the end of a season. From start to start, an outside fan might not see what's so great about a Mark Buehrle or Freddy Garcia or John Danks.
Sale stands out in snapshots. He throws too hard, from improbable angles with impossibly skinny limbs, to be ignored. He demoralizes hitters into bad body language during the game, and elicits complimentary language afterward. He is a force.
Since he's starting on Sunday, Sale can miss the All-Star Game without a note from a doctor. They'd probably be smart to exercise that right, given how jittery they were about his health early in the season, and how much they're going to need him in the second half.
But there is a way for Sale to pitch, and speaking as a fan, I'd like him to throw an inning on that stage, if only so the larger baseball world won't miss a pitcher they'll be glad to avoid in the future.
Adam Dunn: .210/.359/.507, 10 2B, 24 HR, 58 RBI, 64 BB
Dunn's bounceback season has lost a bit of luster after a down June:
- April: .231/.368/.513
- May: .230/.386/.590
- June: .181/.333/.436
But he's still solidly in All-Star territory, especially since the players voted before Dunn started his current 5-for-40 slide. As it stands, he's still in good shape -- third in homers, fourth in RBI and first in walks (56). His down month just puts his OPS+ back in line with his career, and not a career-best.
Still, at .210, I'm trying to find if an All-Star has ever had a lower batting average. The closest I can find is Jason Varitek, who batted .218 at the All-Star break in 2008. It doesn't really matter for a player like Dunn, and he knows that better than anybody, but I'm just curious.
Paul Konerko: .335/.411/.551, 15 2B, 14 HR, 40 RBI
Jake Peavy: 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 112.2 IP, 24 BB, 101 K, .215 BAA, 0.99 WHIP
His offense might not like him, but MLB appreciates his season enough to put him on the Final Man Ballot. He's competing against four other pitchers (Jonathan Broxton, Yu Darvish, Ernesto Frieri and Jason Hammel), and Darvish is the on-paper favorite due to the Texas and Japanese votes.
It would probably benefit the Sox if Peavy were to miss out, but Peavy wants to be there. And while the Sox have fought losing, bloody battles with Peavy's bulldog attitude in the past, his (over)willingness to do all he can has worked in the team's favor this year. Immensely.
Peavy starts are practically regularly scheduled rests for an unproven bullpen. He's tied for first in complete games (four) and third in innings on the AL leaderboard. Combine those numbers with his 2.96 ERA, and that's heaping helping of value, both statistical and intangible. As he approaches the three-year anniversary of the trade that brought him to the South Side, he's finally giving the Sox and their fans all that was promised of him. An All-Star appearance would be a helluva milestone for an incredible comeback, so I threw in a vote for him.
And then I saw that Charlie Sheen gave Peavy his support, and ... well ... I'll vote for Peavy anyway.
A.J. Pierzynski: .285/.331/.512, 14 HR, 45 RBI
There's no doubt that Pierzynski is deserving of one of three catcher spots. He's the league's top offensive catcher -- at least among those who don't play another position to alleviate physical stress (looking at you, Joe Mauer). But Texas fans stuffed the ballot box for Mike Napoli, who careened from "underrated" to "overrated" over the course of one year, and the players weren't going to support their least-favorite peer.
That left the vote up to Ron Washington, and he bypassed Pierzynski. He supposedly felt remorse:
"I feel bad for Pierzynski," Washington said. "The guy's having an outstanding year. He's been working with a very good pitching staff over there with those Chicago White Sox for many years. I consider him a winning player because he beats you any kind of way he can. He beats you mentally, he beats you physically. So I feel really bad for Pierzynski."
"If (Washington) felt that bad he would have put me on the team," Pierzynski said. "He had an opportunity to do it and he didn’t do it. Obviously he can feel as bad as he wants, but he didn’t feel that bad."
Which makes all of this an incredibly A.J. Pierzynski Thing to happen to A.J. Pierzynski. Any other player would draw sympathy.
He's having the best season of his career thanks to a power surge (14 homers, .843 OPS), and he's been able to slow down the running game, too. I'm nearly as impressed by his patience, too. Pierzynski has never drawn more than 25 walks in a season, but he's already walked 17 times in 2012, and the Sox aren't even at the halfway point.
Still, I wonder if this might be a net positive for Pierzynski. He's managed to reverse negative trends with gusto, and he's doing it after the first time the Sox seriously threatened his playing time with an up-and-coming catcher. If, by chance, he needed to resharpen the chip on his shoulder at midseason, this oughta do it.