Open a dictionary and look up “dominant.” Right next to the word should be a picture of Chris Sale.
The seven-time All-Star just dominated the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday—his first start since July 27. The Boston ace missed more than two weeks due to mild left shoulder inflammation. Sale allowed just one hit and struck out 12 in five innings. The southpaw left after throwing just 68 pitches because manager Alex Cora put an innings limit on him.
Dominance is nothing new. In fact, this was the fourth consecutive start where Sale has shut out the competition. He’s the first Red Sox to accomplish the feat since Pedro Martinez in 2002.
Overall, it’s been an amazing year for the Florida-native. Just take a look at his numbers.
2018 Season Statistics
Here’s some context on Sale’s statistics.
His 1.97 ERA is tops in the American League and trails only deGrom (1.77) for the best in the majors. He also trails Scherzer by eight strikeouts (227-to-219) for the most in MLB this season. However, that outlook is flawed because Sale has thrown 22.2 fewer innings than Scherzer, due to his time on the DL.
Instead, let’s go this route. Sale’s 13.5 strikeouts-per-nine is tops in the majors in 2018. However, it gets even better. His rate is on pace to be the best single-season K/9 in Major League Baseball history. Below are the current five highest K/9 rates in MLB history.
Randy Johnson 13.4 2001 Diamondbacks
Pedro Martinez 13.2 1999 Red Sox
Chris Sale 12.9 2017 Red Sox
Kerry Wood 12.9 1998 Cubs
Randy Johnson 12.6 2000 Diamondbacks
In the Live Ball Era—since the start of the 1920 season—there have only been three qualified Red Sox pitchers to finish a year with a lower ERA than Sale’s 1.97. All three were brand names— Pedro Martinez (1.74 in 2000), Roger Clemens (1.93 in 1990) and Luis Tiant (1.91 in 1974).
Keep in mind, Sale is the only left-hander in that list. The last Red Sox southpaw to have an ERA lower than Sale’s was Babe Ruth. Yes, you read that right. Ruth, the legendary slugger himself, was one of baseball’s great pitchers. Back in 1916, a 21-year old Ruth posted a 1.75 ERA in 323.2 innings for the World Series winning Red Sox.
How is Sale compiling such legendary numbers? The secret lies with the slider.
Since Ruth was affectionately known as the “Sultan of Swat”, I think it’s fair to say that Sale has been the “Sultan of Slider” during the 2018 season. Opposing batters are hitting just .103 against it this year. That’s the second-lowest batting average against the slider in the majors.
Lowest BAA with the Slider
In 2018 (a minimum 100 at-bats ending with a Slider)
Trevor Bauer .084
Chris Sale .103
Edwin Diaz .108
Mike Foltynewicz .124
Kyle Gibson .129
These are just a few examples of how Sale has dominated opposing batters. Should he continue to “sail” through the competition, the Red Sox will be difficult to defeat once October rolls around.