Red Sox LHP Chris Sale is officially finished for 2020. The left-handed starter will undergo Tommy John Surgery, ending his 2020 campaign before it even started. Where does this leave Boston now that Sale is done for this season? Let’s take a look.
Chris Sale’s 2019
Before we get into the effect this will have on the 2020 Red Sox, let’s briefly look at Sale’s 2019 season. Over 25 stars in 2019, Sale finished the year with a 6-11 record. Sale’s six wins last season was his lowest total since 2011, when the left-handed pitcher only recorded two wins while pitching exclusively out of the bullpen (Sale’s first season as a starter was not until 2012). Sale also finished 2019 with a career low in ERA, as the lefty had an earned run average of 4.40 ERA last season.
Sale’s ERA wasn’t the only figure that took a dip last season. Sale’s fastball velocity in 2019 dropped as well. In 2018, Sale’s mean fastball velocity was 95.2 MPH. Fast forward to 2019, and Sale’s mean velocity was down to 93.4 MPH. Anytime a pitcher sees a decline in velocity, people are no doubt concerned, and considering Sale’s numbers on his fastball last season, how could you not be:
|Year||Opp. AVG||Opp. SLG||Opp. Mean Exit Velocity (MPH)||Whiff%|
One last note on Sale’s down year: the 30-year old struggled against left-handed hitters in 2019. Left-handed hitters have a career opposing batting average of .203 and an OPS of .530 against Sale. Last season, though, opposing left-handed hitters hit .240 off of Sale, and had an OPS of .666.
What Went Right for Sale in 2019
The slider was still a nasty offering for the 30-year old Sale last season 105 of Sale’s 210 strikeouts (50%) were off the slider, and while it was more hittable last season, the pitch still had the break and movement that you would expect from Sale.
Speaking of strikeouts, while Sale’s velocity, exit velocity, and ERA figures were down last season, the lefty was still one of the best in the game when it came to the strikeout. Sale’s K/PA and K/AB ratios were phenomenal. Both were the second-highest in baseball last year, with Gerrit Cole being the only other pitcher with better ratios*.
Red Sox Entering 2020
With all of the turnover in Boston heading into 2020, Boston needed a healthy and dominant Sale. With no Mookie Betts, as well as a questionable bullpen, the Red Sox would have liked their dominant starter to eat up innings and continue to stymie hitters. Without Sale, the Sox have more than a few questions surrounding their rotation, and their pitching staff as a whole. Last season, Sale, among Red Sox pitchers, had the second-highest fWAR (3.6) on the team. And out of the five pitchers who had the highest fWAR on the team, three of them won’t be wearing red and white come 2020 (Sale, David Price (Dodgers), Rick Porcello (Mets).
A lot was going to be expected of Eduardo Rodriguez this season. After all, Rodriguez won 19 games for Boston last season, while striking out 213 batters while recording a GB% rate of 49.5% (16th-highest in MLB in 2019 among qualified pitchers (via Baseball Savant)). But with Sale out for all of 2020, the 26-year old will be relied upon to be the ace Boston needs right now.
And as for the rest of the rotation, Boston will need pitchers like Nathan Eovaldi and Ryan Weber (who most likely will be in the Sox’ rotation) to step up. Otherwise, it might be a long year in Boston.
*-K/PA figure does not take into account intentional walks. The minimum qualifier for those lists was 350 plate appearances in 2019.
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