After his eight shutout innings against Milwaukee Friday night, here are Chris Sale's stats for the season:
Everything about this line is awesome, really. Sale now leads the American League with that 2.24 ERA. He's also holding hitters to a .194 average and a .537 OPS, which is second in both categories to Jered Weaver.
But let's take a look at the innings. He's not near the top of the leaderboard, as he missed one start and had another delayed, but 88 innings is significant for him for one reason: That's about the number of innings Sale would have finished the season with had Don Cooper and Robin Ventura locked him in the closer role and eaten the key back in May.
An average closer pitches 70 innings a year, so prorate that total over five months instead of six and add it to the month of starting, and you get about 88-90 innings. With three months left, he has the potential to make twice the impact, which was the main argument behind making him a starter in the first place.
But it would be fascinating to simulate the season with Sale closing, assuming the Emerald Starter Borer plagues the rotation just the same. With Philip Humber joining John Danks on the DL, a Sale-less rotation would comprise Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Jose Quintana, Dylan Axelrod and Simon Castro/Nestor Molina/Charles Leesman/You, the Viewer. I wouldn't count on that combination creating ample save opportunities.
We can get an idea of what Sale's life would look like by sizing up Addison Reed's situation, and it isn't pretty. Reed has pitched seven times this month (7 1/3 innings), and one of those can be filed under "getting work in." With the White Sox 5-11 over their last 16 games, a closer lacks work. Reed has sat for four, four, three and four days at a time in June alone. Given what we know, Sale's life probably wouldn't look much different than Reed's.
And if that were the case, would the shortage of starters force Ventura and Cooper to reverse course and turn to Sale after a month of closing? Or would Sale stew in the bullpen while watching former rotationmates hitting the DL one by one?
It would be awesome to know the answers, but they're better left mysteries. The bullpen flap in early May reflected well on nobody, but whatever embarrassment resulted from the out-of-order MRI would have paled in comparison to the shame in watching Sale pitch with a six-run deficit because he hadn't seen a save opportunity in a week.
What a waste of talent that would have been.
Now, enjoy watching him strike out seven Brewers.