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Terrerobytes: Chris Sale's slider can't be ignored

"I ranked him 47th. The White Sox took him 13th. You do the math." -- Keith Law, July 9, 2010.
"I ranked him 47th. The White Sox took him 13th. You do the math." -- Keith Law, July 9, 2010.

You know Chris Sale is experiencing a charmed season when his biggest bummer is that he won't be starting the All-Star Game, only pitching in it. He even had a much easier path to Kansas City than the leader of the White Sox staff. Jake Peavy wasn't picked during the initial selection, and the #TakeJake campaign didn't get him there either.. He had to wait for C.J. Wilson to bail on it due to blister problems.

At any rate, Sale's undeniable success has finally forced one of his biggest doubters to reconcile his initial skepticism over his starting potential.

Keith Law's misgivings about Sale are well-documented here, and back in December, Larry picked apart the biggest incongruity. Back when the Sox selected Sale in 2010, Law said Sale didn't have a slider, but by the end of the season, he had one of baseball's best.

As Larry wrote:

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.

Law finally reconciled his initial scouting report with reality on's Baseball Today podcast on Thursday. Although it makes his report on the slider even harder to fathom, because he said he saw Sale pitch in the Cape Cod League back in 2009.

Law: When I saw him in college at Florida Gulf Coast -- I actually saw him on the Cape -- he was fastball-changeup. He had a well-below-average breaking ball. Which, I don't know if you've seen Chris Sale this year -- would you say he has a well-below-average breaking ball right now?

Eric Karabell: I don't think it's well-below-average. I think it's good enou--

Law: No, it's pretty good. [laughing] He's got a pretty good slider. Yeah. And it's actually been pretty good really since the end of that first season. Which is interesting to me because he also throws from a slot where it's hard to get any kind of angle on a breaking ball.

Law went on to say that Sale is essentially a side-armer, throwing from a lower slot than any left-handed starter that he could find, so he didn't see much potential for a good third pitch. How Sale discovered one a nasty one over the next year might be the stuff of college baseball lore, based on this account.

At any rate, the talk about arm slots led to Law's remaining doubt about Sale -- that his elbow will be able to withstand throwing from that slot for 100-110 pitches at a time over a full season. It's up to the Sox staff to prove him wrong about that, and skipping him on Sunday was a mean to that end.



Because I have a backlog of fun reading...

Our friend Brett has posted his midseason value survey, with a special breakout based off e-gus' note from the Thursday recap, saying Kevin Youkilis had already outproduced everybody Robin Ventura had thrown at the third base hole.

If you missed Chuck Garfien's "Inside Look" with A.J. Pierzynski on Comcast Sports Net, has posted it in three parts.

James notes the rare pleasure Sox fans are experiencing this summer by watching overpowering pitchers start two out of every five games.

Retrosheet recently announced its most recent spate of updates, including box score event files from 1916 and 1917. Tom Ruane, one of many who proofed the box scores, put together a compendium of interesting events from the last four seasons of the 1910s. For instance, from the 1919 season, you can take a look at the box score that undermines the legend that Eddie Cicotte took the money for the 1919 World Series because Charles Comiskey ordered Kid Gleason to sit Cicotte in order to spoil a chance at 30 wins and a bonus:

In the White Sox's pennant-clinching win on September 24th, Ed Cicotte left the game on the short end of a 5-2 score, failing to win his thirtieth game of the season. He had one more chance, pitching the first two innings of the final regular season game, a tuneup for the upcoming World Series. He left the game at the end of the second inning with a 2-1 lead. Under the scoring practices of the time, Cicotte would have no doubt been credited with the win had Chicago held the lead. Roy Wilkinson replaced him on the mound and things looked up for Chicago. After all, Wilkinson came into the game having made four major league appearances, covering sixteen innings, and had yet to allow a run. His first career start a little more than two weeks earlier had resulted in a five-hit shutout for his first win. But he had little on this day, giving up six runs and Cicotte's lead in his first two innings. So his teammate had to settle for a league-leading 29 wins. But it wasn't for lack of trying (or opportunity).

The guys at Brooks Baseball have teamed up with Baseball Prospectus to apply Pitch f/x data to hitters in the form of heat maps. Basically, you can see how pitchers attack hitters, and which locations and pitch types hitters mash or struggle against.

I've only played with it a little bit, but Adam Dunn provides the most striking contrast. You can see his batting average against certain pitch locations in 2011 vs. 2012:


With the All-Star Game in Kansas City, it's a big weekend for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to drum up support. Jeff Passan its recent plight, and why you should care about its future.

Rhubarb linked to this a few days ago in the comments, but in case you missed it, it's worth reading. As I mentioned before, I'm interested in how Guillen runs the Marlins because it helps me to understand what might have happened with the Sox.

The reason I link to it now is because I was reminded of it while partaking in a little bit of Marlinfreude Sunday afternoon. Sure, the White Sox's 11-9 loss to Toronto might have been terrible on a number of levels, but it wasn't an embarrassing loss. The Sox showed plenty of fight, but the young pitching didn't hold up. That'll happen. Down in Miami, demoralizing losses are becoming routine. Heath Bell blew yet another game, which had the youngest Guillen griping about it during the meltdown, and the eldest after the game.

"Very confused, very sad to see a team like this go through day in and day out with the same stuff. It's hard to watch," Guillen said.

You don't say.