Will the Red Sox Regret the Chris Sale Trade?
In the midst of the Winter Meetings, Boston Red Sox General Manager Dave Dombrowski made the deal of the offseason. Dombrowski acquired star left-handed pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for a considerable haul of prospects, including the number one prospect in baseball, Yoan Moncada.
Dombrowski has been largely applauded for acquiring Sale. With an exciting young core of position players, the Red Sox are in a position to contend for a World Series title immediately. On the surface, Sale seems to be exactly the type of ace to put Boston over the top. But will Sale, much like his teammate David Price, disappoint in Beantown?
Sale began to show clear signs of regression during the 2016 season. A strikeout pitcher, Sale maintained a K% upwards of 30% for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. But Sale’s K% plummeted in 2016, dropping to 25.7%, the lowest mark of his big league career. Sale thrives off getting batters to swing and miss, making a drop in his K% a concerning statistic.
With batters making contact on Sale more than ever, the pitcher surrendered a career worst hard hit ball percentage. Previous to 2016, batters made hard contact on Sale at roughly a 25-27% clip. But a year ago, Sale allowed batters to make hard contact at a staggering 31.7% rate, a huge jump in a critical statistic.
Additionally, Sale’s Fielder Independent Pitching, which measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league average results on balls in play, skyrocketed to 3.46 in 2016. This was the highest FIP of Sale’s career and the first time it went over 3.00 since 2012.
It doesn’t help that Sale is entering an extremely hitter-friendly stadium in Fenway Park. Fenway is famous for its short dimensions in left and right field, which will make Sale susceptible to home runs that would not leave most other stadiums. Already known for having a quick temper (hopefully the Red Sox hide all the scissors before he arrives), it’s easy to see Sale struggling to adapt to Fenway’s quirks.
Along with the Fenway Park comes the treacherous American League East. Sale will now have to face a gaudy array of talented right handed batters within his own division.
On the New York Yankees, Sale will go toe to toe with Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday, and a collection of Baby Bombers that will soon reach the Major Leagues.
On the Toronto Blue Jays, Sale will see Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, and Kendrys Morales.
On the Baltimore Orioles, Sale will face Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop.
Even on the Tampa Bay Rays, Sale will have to pitch to Evan Longoria, Wilson Ramos and Kevin Kiermaier.
Clearly, Sale will be pitching against an elevated level of competition. The AL Central provides some of the stiffest in baseball, but the AL East is still considered the most competitive and hitter friendly divisions in the Major Leagues. In order to succeed, Sale will have to prove that his 2016 regression was an anomaly.
On top of the obvious physical factors, Sale is now being thrust onto a team that has World Series aspirations. The Red Sox are arguably the most talented team in the American League and are looking to take a step forward this season after getting dismissed in the ALDS a year ago. Sale will be a crucial player in Boston’s championship pursuit, something he was never involved with in Chicago. The White Sox failed to qualify for the postseason in every season of Sale’s career.
And as Price and Madison Bumgarner have proved, the bright lights of the postseason are an entirely different animal. Some pitchers, like Price, falter. Others, like Bumgarner, rise to the occasion.
It’s yet to be seen which type of playoff pitcher Sale will be. With his ferocious temperament and uncanny delivery, it’s likely that he will prove to be a successful pitcher in the postseason. But there’s also a chance that his ego, regression in skills, and quick fuse will lead to poor playoff performance.
In Boston, everything is about championships. Is Sale ready for this type of pressure?
For Dombrowski’s sake, Sale must rise to the occasion. He has all the tools to be a wonderful playoff pitcher and Cy Young contender, but has also shown signs that his play may come up short of expectations in 2017.
Sale needs to prove that the dip in his 2016 statistics will be undone with a change of scenery and an injection of pennant race fever. Sale’s appears to be in the process of an untimely regression, but perhaps he will return to form in Boston.
Sale better hope this is the case. His legacy is on the line.