With Kenny Williams officially stamping Chris Sale as rotation-ready, we can officially close the first phase of the lanky lefty's career.
I think we can call it a success. A certifiable, undeniable, unquestionable success.
Really, could it have gone any better? Sale adjusted to the incredible jump so seamlessly that it's easy to forget he was drafted after Jared Mitchell, not before. The White Sox gave him 10 minor-league innings to warm him up, and then threw him into the major-league roster. Just 47 days after he signed with the Sox, he began facing major-league hitters in tight spots in games that counted.
And all Sale did was turn into a low-maintenance high-leverage man. I mean, just look at this.
|162 Game Avg.||3||3||2.58||68||10||81||58||23||23||7||32||96||165||1.102|
If those numbers don't represent the best-case scenario for what the Sox demanded of him, they come awfully close.
Here's one case where we can say the White Sox scouts delivered. Not so much in with regards to Sale's tools, because it didn't take an eagle eye to notice him. Any lefty who throws in the high-90s, has a second pitch and a possible future as a starter is going to be selected on the first day of the draft.
But the talent evaluators must have been grilled over Sale's demeanor, because the organization took a considerable risk in guaranteeing him the super-express lane to the big leagues. If Sale couldn't handle it, it would have been a pretty big blow to both the farm system and the front office.
Not only did Sale survive, but he handled everything the Sox threw at him, with aplomb. He handled lefties. He handled righties. He handled the closer role. He handled multiple innings. He handled inherited runners better than any White Sox pitcher who routinely inherited runners. He handled the adjustment period at the start of 2011. He handled the biggest workload in the White Sox bullpen.
He also handled the off-field stuff like a vet. When we talked to him before the season, he was just happy to be in the big leagues:
To be totally honest with you, I just want to pitch. My ultimate goal is to just be here and to pitch for the Sox and help our team out in every way that I can. Whether that's starting, long relief, short relief, set-up, closing, it doesn't matter. I kind of like to use this analogy: I'm just like Play-Doh, whatever you want to do with me I'm gonna do and I'm gonna go at it 100%. I really don't care. Pitching is pitching and I just want to be out there, helping my ball club in every way I can whether it's starting or relieving.
In September, while the Sox played out the string and he had a full season of major-league credibility to his name, he came clean about his preferred role:
"Obviously, I would like starting. I grew up, ever since I've been pitching, I've been a starter since summer ball, college, everything," said Sale, who nervously laughed when making his choice, despite staying relatively non-committal. "If the last choice came to me, I'd like to start.
"But at the end of the day, I have nothing to complain about so far. It's not like I'm unhappy with the role I'm in. By no means is it anything like that. I'd like to get an opportunity to start and if it happens, awesome. If not, I'm still lucky to be where I am."
In both cases, I don't think he could have answered the questions any better if his agent had 24 hours to prepare statements. It's not easy to be a rookie in the White Sox clubhouse, which is why it's smart to make like Brent Morel and not speak. But from Day One, Sale balanced honesty, respect and enthusiasm, and he pulled off the trick of sounding like a 22-year-old without pissing off anybody. Ask Brandon McCarthy about the difficulty of requesting a new role at that age.
It helped that Sale displayed a pretty keen awareness of his stock. He waited until a point in a season where only individual matters mattered, he stated what he wanted with deference to the decision-makers, and now he's getting his wish. All in all, he played his hand perfectly.
You may or may not care about these things, but the extracurricular stuff does matter to a player who is trying to establish himself in the big leagues. It's hard enough getting the brain, arms, legs, hands and feet up to speed -- when the mouth gets in the way, it adds a whole new layer of complications, especially in this workplace.
Sale will have new obstacles as he switches to starting, but I think the bigger unknowns are physical in nature. Can he hold up for 175 innings? Can his fastball offer enough at 93 mph to set up his other pitches? Colin took a crack at Sale's starting potential back in January, and while Sale has since added more data, I think the overarching observations still hold up, and nobody will know for sure until the season starts, anyway.
But I feel oddly confident that he can handle the mental part of the transition -- even if it includes having to transition back into relief work when all is said and done. Literally, for as long as we've known him, he's spent his time making a really weird career seem like nothing at all. How is this part any weirder?
Chris Sale fun fact
Did you know that Sale, despite being drafted only 17 months ago, has already produced more WAR for the White Sox than any of their other top picks over the last 21 years?
- Chris Sale, 3.4 WAR (2010)
- Mark Johnson, 2.6 (1994)
Gordon Beckham, 1.9 (2008)
- Kip Wells, 1.1 (1998)
Aaron Poreda, 0.3 (2007)
Lance Broadway, 0.3 (2005)
- Brian Anderson, 0.0 (2003)
- Jeff Liefer, -0.7 (1995)
- Jason Dellaero, -0.8 (1997)
Joe Borchard, -1.2 (2000)
Josh Fields, -1.2 (2004)
- Scott Ruffcorn, -1.6 (1991)
No major-league experience for the White Sox: Keenyn Walker (2011), Jared Mitchell (2009), Kyle McCulloch (2006), Royce Ring (2002), Kris Honel (2001), Jason Stumm (1999), Bobby Seay (1996), Scott Christman (1993), Eddie Pearson (1992).