A spare thought after watching the sport’s greatest pitcher dig impossibly deep for new reserves of his greatness…
Given the expectations laid forth when he transitioned to starting, Chris Sale‘s health has been a revelation. His mechanics have been revealed to be deceptively smooth despite his atypical build, and he’s compiled 1,015 innings with a 3.04 ERA over five seasons as a starter with just a single minor disabled list stint. Only 12 pitchers have completed 1,000 innings in that time. Of that group, only he and Felix Hernandez have not made a playoff start. But have they been tested in the same way?
Jeff Samardzija, R.A. Dickey haven’t dealt with this much, but for aces, the playoffs bring a grueling slate of starts on short rest, and apparently, relief appearances as well. Clayton Kershaw has pitched 28 more regular season innings over the last five years than Sale despite his abbreviated 2016, and has added 62.1 innings (and counting) by pitching in the playoffs the last four years.
While the Sox have Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon, the latter is still pretty volatile, and they have been light on relief aces beyond Nate Jones, and maybe Zach Putnam and David Robertson in recent years. The Sox push their starters longer than anyone and would likely act similarly in a hypothetical playoff appearance, but Sale still possesses a dominant perch with the Sox pitching staff and is so much more electric than anyone else in a one-on-one matchup. He might compare as well as anyone to Kershaw in terms of his team’s need to use him as much as possible to survive, and his status as their best option, no matter the situation. Which is to say, it’s easy to see Sale working as hard as Kershaw has had to, and now that the precedent is set, it might be haunting to have the Sox go down with Sale doing anything less.
Such a workload might change Sale’s career progression. It might dull his ability to hold up his performance, his velocity and durability, or simply his legacy and standing as a franchise great based on whatever fallout comes from having to face top offenses doing their worst to dismantle him. But it goes without saying that we are worse for not seeing it.
I spent all year, as I have spent the last few years, trying to understand the machinations of Sale’s approach and his attempts to preserve himself and what they were building toward. These have not been great seasons to observe on the whole, and I see no purpose here higher than trying my best to understand and appreciate a generational talent. But it’s all just been watching an artist scribble and never getting to see his finished product, because we have never gotten see how much he’s had left in store, and what level he could rise to, let alone what it would take out of him.
Lead Image Credit: Brad Mills // USA Today Sports Images