It's been a bleak season. Even when the White Sox manage to win, they still look terrible. It's been disheartening to say the least, but there have been bright spots. Alex Rios is proving that he's able to consistently be an above-average hitter. Adam Dunn's monster June has put him back into the category of above-average hitter. Jesse Crain has become some sort of relief pitching god to the tune of an 839 ERA+. Addison Reed has established himself as one of the better closers in the league. But not all bright spots are created equal. One player's performance this season has shone brighter than a magnesium flare.
If there were any doubts in regards to if Chris Sale is truly an ace or not before the season, they should be long since put to rest by now. The 24-year-old has been impressive by any standard you wish to measure him. K/9? 9.52. BB/9? 2.11. ERA-? 64. He's basically putting up the numbers he did as a reliever in 2011 but with better control and over many more innings. This is impressive and wonderful and everything we could have hoped for.
But how does it stack up with the rest of the American League?
|BWAR, pitchers only||3.8||T-2nd|
Those are some pretty damn good numbers. And other than Felix Hernandez, the names around him are not ones you would typically expect. What pitchers are currently Sale's main competition for the 2013 Cy Young Award? Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox and Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners. Am I saying Chris Sale is going to win the Cy Young? Of course I'm not. But he's on pace to finish in the top five in only his second full season as a starting pitcher. That's a pretty nice place to be in.
Will he be able to maintain an opponents' BABIP of .253 through September? Probably not. But even with slight regression, we're looking at one of the more impressive seasons of pitching from a Sox pitcher in recent memory. Back in January I asked if Chris Sale could possibly top Justin Verlander. The Tigers ace has looked downright human this year, throwing 1.1 fewer innings than Sale over two more starts with an ERA+ and an ERA- right around league average. His opponents' BABIP is noticeably higher than in the past, but he also pitches in front of the left side of a less than cromulent defensive infield. Chris Sale may not have dethroned Justin Verlander just yet, but winter is coming.