RE: Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away

Last week after Chris Sale’s rough start versus Detroit, I offered up some possible explanation for his poor performance in the article Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away.  I showed how his slider usage had been replaced with a higher fastball usage, which I believed to be a possible factor in his ugly stat line and decline in strikeouts.  However, I did say that his start at Milwaukee on Tuesday was going to be an easy one on paper since the Brewers have struggled versus left-handed pitching this year.  So even though it was an easy outing on paper, it was still nice to see Sale turn in his best performance of the season as he lasted 8 innings while allowing just 2 ER on 4 base runners and whiffing 11.

I want to examine Sale’s pitch selection from Tuesday night’s starts versus the Brewers to see if he made any changes to his approach that led to the much more Sale-esque outing.  So according to the data presented on MLB.com Gameday, out of the 110 pitches that Sale threw, the breakdown went as follows:  67 fastballs (all two-seamers), 31 changeups, and 12 sliders.  Percentage wise, that translates to 60.9% fastballs, 28.2% changeups, and 10.9% sliders, which is basically right in line with what his pitch usage had been prior to this start.

So it is interesting to note that he was able to have a dominant strikeout performance while still trading in his slider for more fastballs to possibly squash my theory that he needed to utilize his slider more for future success.  We’ll see if this can be a trend that Sale continues or if he was just taking advantage of pitching in a National League park and facing a team who has struggled against lefties this year.  I still think that Sale would offer more strikeout potential, leading to a better overall performance, if he upped his slider usage and relied less on his fastball, but we will have to wait and see what happens.  Sale will toe the rubber on Monday versus the reigning AL Cy Young Corey Kluber.

To be continued…

Chris’ Slider Sale-ing Away

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Previously tonight on the Twitter feed @TheBackwardsK, I mentioned that this year Chris Sale is using his slider half as much as he did last year, and I intimated that could be the causal effect to his diminished strikeout rate and also his out of character, underwhelming overall performance.  Let’s take a look at Sale’s pitch usage over the years since 2012 when he became a full-time starting pitcher in the Majors (2015 stats include his May 6 start versus the Tigers).

2012:  Fastball 60.1%, slider 26.2%, changeup 13.7%

2013:  Fastball 51.4%, slider 29.6%, changeup 19.0%

2014:  Fastball 52.9%, slider 18.4%, changeup 28.6%

2015:  Fastball 60.6%, slider 10.0%, changeup 29.4% 

So judging by the numbers, it is apparent that beginning last year, Sale replaced the slider as his primary offspeed offering with a changeup.  The thought process in doing so is probably mostly to limit the injury risk to his arm so that he may have a long and successful career, as throwing sliders and other breaking pitches is more harmful to a pitcher’s arm.  However, Sale is also quoted as saying that using the changeup more helps him to maintain consistent mechanics when he does pitch every fifth day.  Sale would not be the first pitcher to move away from a slider in an effort to preserve the future health of his arm, and with Sale’s violent delivery it is actually probably a wise idea to have begun to use the changeup more instead.  And as an added bonus last year, the reversal in his offspeed arsenal led to amazing results as he produced career bests nearly all across the board, and his strikeout rate jumped up by a lot to 10.76 K/9.

So tonight versus the Tigers, Sale did use his slider just a tad more than he had in his previous 2015 starts, but still it was not much difference at all.  Sale left the game after 5.1 IP, giving up 5 ER on 7 H and 5 BB while striking out 6.  It was a very rough outing, albeit against a good offense, but Sale has hardly looked sharp over his last few starts now.  I believe that the reason for the lackluster performance is the fact that he is using his slider even less this season.  The velocity on his pitches is in line with recent years and I don’t think that there is an issue with flip flopping the changeup with the slider for his primary offspeed pitch, as his changeup is a plus pitch and he excelled in doing so last year.  However, I believe that the problem is that he is now throwing his fastball even more in lieu of his slider.  The changeup usage so far is nearly identical to last year, but it’s the fastball usage that is up while the slider usage is down a lot.  And the result is that he now is the sad owner of a 5.93 ERA and 1.61 WHIP with out of the norm strikeout and walk rates at 8.58 K/9 and 3.29 BB/9.

Up next on the schedule for Sale is a start at Milwaukee next week.  This is going to give him a good opportunity to bounce back as the Brewers against left-handed pitching have the 4th worst strikeout rate, the 3rd worst ISO, and absolute worst wOBA.  However, there is some caution with that as the Brewers are a right-handed dominant lineup and some of those numbers came with 2 weeks of Carlos Gomez being on the shelf.  Nonetheless, on paper, it is a solid spot for Sale and if he does not turn in some better results in that start, then it might be a serious problem.  Although, the easy fix for him could just be to use his slider more and his fastball less.

This Year’s Jose Abreu Will Be Jorge Soler

When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player.  Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense.  Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question.  But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out.  So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.

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Around the internet I have seen White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu referred to as “El Dolor Grande,” which is the Spanish translation of “The Big Hurt.”  For those who don’t know, The Big Hurt is the moniker that long-time White Sox broadcast announcer and the most hometown biased announcer ever, Hawk Harrelson, gave to one of the premiere sluggers of the 90’s, Frank Thomas.  Although Abreu’s plate discipline skills pale in comparison to Thomas’ (though any player’s would), Abreu certainly causes pain to many baseballs, so El Dolor Grande is a fitting nickname.  But if Thomas is The Big Hurt and Abreu is El Dolor Grande, how come Paul Konerko never got a badass nickname?  All he got was “Paulie” as if he was a talking bird or one of the worst “comedians” of the 90’s.

Abreu had established himself as one of the top hitters in Cuba and he was able to defect from his motherland and he signed a 6-year/$68 million contract with the White Sox in August of 2013.  That type of commitment in years and dollars to a player that had never seen a pitch in the Majors was very interesting, but clearly the Sox were heavily intrigued.  There was no doubting that he had massive power potential, but there were questions if he could handle Major League pitching.  Well, I don’t think there are any more doubts about that as Abreu had one of the best seasons of any hitter last year as he took home the American League Rookie of the Year Award.  Overall, Abreu hit .317 with 36 HR, 107 RBI, 80 R, and 3 SB.

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