ESPN's scouting guru published his "Top 50 MLB players age 25 or under". It also included nine more players he considered for the list. No mention of Chris Sale.
Here are some of the pitchers included at the backend of the list, or in the 'also considered': Ivan Nova. Brandon Beachy. Mike Leake. Craig Kimbrel. Mike Minor. Jon Niese.
Now, perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise because Keith Law never was enamored with Sale. Just after the 2010 Draft:
Keith, what are your thoughts on Chris Sale?
I ranked him 47th. The White Sox took him 13th. You do the math.
Keith, what was your reason for ranking him that low again?
Speaking of the draft… what are your thoughts on Chris Sale’s mechanics? I recently saw a scouting video and, well, ow. It looked like an injury waiting to happen.
Klaw (1:18 PM)
I don’t love the arm action, but this idea that arm action guarantees injury has to die. It’s all probability, and there have been pitchers with subpar mechanics who’ve pitched in the majors for several years before getting hurt, as well as plenty of pitchers with "clean" arm actions who got hurt anyway. Back to Sale, I’m more concerned that he’s a sidearming lefty without much of a breaking ball. If you knew nothing about him but that one sentence, what would you say he was in the big leagues?
This was in accordance with his full pre-draft analysis:
If you like Chris Sale, you see a 6'6" left-hander with an arm slot close to Randy Johnson's, a plus fastball and change, and a potential front-line starter. If you're a skeptic, you see a sidearming lefthander without an average breaking ball and a long arm action that will be tough to repeat 100-plus times an outing. I'm more in the latter camp than the former, and I think Sale's pro future is reasonably likely to come in the bullpen.
He'll sit 92-93 as a starter and has touched 96 a handful of times this spring, with good sink on the pitch that comes from the low slot, helping him generate groundballs. He turns his low-80s changeup over well, surprising given his arm slot, but it's more of an action change that relies on its downward movement and big-league hitters will lay off it when it's out of the zone. He's thrown a loopy curveball and a harder slider, with a better chance to make the slider work from that low slot, but neither is an average pitch and he primarily works with the fastball and change.
His arm action is ugly, long and complex in the back with a high elbow, and he drifts forward in a crouch more commonly seen on sidearmers and submariners. If I did draft him, I'd see if I could raise his slot just enough to get him better angle on the slider and get him to take advantage of his height. His current delivery, slot, and repertoire make him look a lot like a reliever to me.
In that same analysis, he rated Sale's slider as a '40' on his MLB Draft Grading Scale, with a projected future rating of '45'.
And that's where Law royally screwed up. A 40 on that scale translates to "Well below-average ability". A 45 is still below average and translates to "11th/12th men on a pitching staff".
Less than two months after the draft, Sale was in the majors. And his slider all of the sudden became one of the best sliders in baseball. According to Fangraphs, Sale's slider has been the 18th best slider since the beginning of 2010, with a rather ridiculous swing and miss rate of 49 percent (compare to 33 percent average for relievers). And Sale didn't throw a major league pitch until August 6, 2010.
Obviously, Law was wrong. Since it's rather unlikely Law ever saw Sale pitch in person, he got bad information from his contacts. (Coincidentally, BP's Jason Parks published an article today describing the perils of evaluating a player without seeing them in person.)
Of course, since August 6, 2010, one would think Law has seen Sale pitch, at least on TV. And, even if he hasn't, the evidence of how wrong his pre-draft analysis was is both obvious and overwhelming. This is an example of not knowing what the fuck you were talking about in the first place and being stubbornly unable to admit you were wrong. The first isn't a crime, particularly when one person tries to evaluate hundreds of players. The latter is what strains an analyst's credibility. Ten minutes ago:
Do you like Chris Sale's move to the rotation and where do you see him as a future starter?
Klaw (1:35 PM) No, I don't.