Chris Sale’s Cy Young chances took a hit on Wednesday. He was knocked after four runs and six innings, which broke his streak of six consecutive eight-inning starts. In what looks like a three-horse race for the award, he fell behind the other two:
Sale still holds the edge in innings, innings per start and runs per nine (look at the unearned runs the other two have), so he’s not out of it. He’s just probably going need one of the others to experience a similar stumble. Porcello certainly showed no signs of slowing down by throwing an 89-pitch complete game against Baltimore. He’s now 10-2 with a 2.40 and 7½ innings per start in the second half, so he’s solidified a Cy Young case that rests on his merits rather than run support.
Yet Sale's start on Wednesday wasn’t a complete waste. While he only recorded 12 outs, that was enough to beat his personal best for innings by a third of one. His previous high came in 2013, and those 214⅓ came over 30 starts as well. He’s attained this kind of innings-per-start rate before, but now he could get the chance to blow it away if the Sox allow him to start two more games.
(I’d assume that’s the plan. He’d been averaging 118 pitches per start over his previous six, and he leads the league with 108 pitches per start, with only Justin Verlander within three pitches of him. A four-inning outing followed by a fifth day of rest thanks to an off day today might be what he needed. If he pitches like butt again, there may not be a point for anybody involved.)
He also reached a mark by leaving three marks across two Phillies. His three HBPs give him 16 for the season, which sets a career high and ties a franchise record, which had been shared by Jim Scott (who you may remember from the World Tour) and Clark Griffith.
A White Sox pitcher hadn’t plunked that many batters in 107 years, and so I expected Sale to be well behind them in workload, similar to how he struck out more batters than Ed Walsh despite throwing 250something fewer innings. Remarkably, the sample size is comparable:
Griffith was toward the end of his career. He only pitched one more full season, but he had a rich history of plunking hitters before joining the White Sox in their inaugural year of 1901. He drilled 136 hitters over nine seasons in the American Association and National League, and he’s 11th in that department all-time.
Scott, on the other hand, drilled 16 in his rookie year, then never plunked more than nine batters in any of his other eight seasons, despite topping 300 innings in one and coming close in another.
Sale resembles the former, because 2016 is his fourth consecutive season with at least 10 hit batters. That’s not terribly unusual in MLB history, because guys like Dave Bush, Pedro Astacio and Orel Hershiser notched five in a row in recent history.
Rather, it’s unusual that Sox pitchers have plunked so few batters over their history, even with so many knuckleballers and spitballers and shineballers of renown. In fact, Sale is already third on the all-time list among some pretty big names:
- Red Faber, 103 over 4,087 innings.
- Doc White, 93 over 2,498 innings.
- Chris Sale, 62 over 1,098 innings.
- Wilbur Wood, 57 over 2,524 innings.
- Mark Buehrle, 55 over 2,477 innings.
That’s kinda staggering. Over the history of baseball, there have been 289 individual seasons with more HBPs than the White Sox’ record-setter, although Sale may cut into that margin by the time his season is over.
When people are trying to glean how Sale pitched from his Baseball-Reference.com page down the line, they’ll look at his ERA column, then strikeouts and hits per inning. But the HBPs may jump out in similar fashion, and it’s descriptive in its own right. While sometimes it’s a function of his temper, it rarely, if ever, seems purposeful. This year, it’s more a result of him trying to bury two-strike sliders down-and-in to right-handed hitters, when he used his changeup more in these situations before. Hitters are probably grateful for the scuffs on their shoes.
Besides HBPs, he’s also fewer than three seasons from setting the White Sox’ all-time strikeout record.
- Billy Pierce, 1,796 over 2,931 innings.
- Ed Walsh, 1,732 over 2,946 innings.
- Red Faber, 1,471 over 4,087 innings.
- Mark Buehrle, 1,396 over 2,477 innings.
- Wilbur Wood, 1,332 over 2,524 innings.
- Chris Sale, 1,231 over 1,098 innings.
These lists sum up why it’d be cool to see Sale in a uniform for as long as the circumstances allow, because he’s already a singular pitcher in many respects. Give him even double the innings he’s already thrown in Chicago, and it’s possible nobody in the franchise ever touches him the way the marks of Walsh and Faber are out of reach.