It’s happened a million and one times in Boston: a big-name player joins the team, he’s rightfully hyped up for a few months, and then he proceeds to struggle in his first season, and typically big-time. Wash, rinse, dry, repeat.
Fans have recently seen this with guys to the likes of Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Rick Porcello and even David Price, to name a few. Beckett, in his first year with the Red Sox in 2006, had a 5.01 ERA, a 1.295 WHIP and recorded 11 losses. Lackey posted a whopping 6.41 ERA, a 1.169 WHIP and 12 losses in 2010. Porcello owned a 4.92 ERA, 1.360 WHIP and 15 losses in 2015. Price defined ‘inconsistent’ last year while possessing a disappointing 3.99 ERA. The difference between Chris Sale and those four pitchers? There are quite a few, actually. And they’re rather notable.
For starters, what sticks out to me the most is that all Beckett, Lackey, Porcello and Price had previously experienced the playoffs before joining the Red Sox. Beckett and Lackey had both won World Series beforehand, and both Porcello and Price had started postseason games prior. Chris Sale, on the other hand, has never even sniffed the playoffs once in his six-year major league career with the Chicago White Sox. All four of the other pitchers had been there, done that and knew what it was like, no longer possessing that same type of drive and fire to make the postseason that Sale currently has rushing through him now more than ever. That is exactly what the Red Sox need. Sale’s motivation to play baseball in October can surely rub off on his teammates, and who knows, it may already have and/or already is.
You could probably call Sale a veteran at this point, having been in the league since 2010, and is 28 years old. He’s been around the block a couple of times, even if it was all with the White Sox. He understands what the league is like, and he understands what market he’s coming into with Boston. That’s, honestly, just half the battle in this day and age. It feels like Sale was born to pitch in Boston. He’s a real no-nonsense guy; looking forward to pitching every five days and just do his job, and do it well. He’s not trying to make a big deal out of anything and is focused 24/7 on the next pitch that he’s going to throw, whether it be during practice, a spring training game, or anything in between.
Like I mentioned before, Sale’s pure competitive drive can drastically rub off on others. This was a major hole that the Red Sox were looking to fill the minute they learned that David Ortiz was going to retire. While nobody can or will ever replace Big Papi, Sale has the ability to do a damn good job at being the team’s leader in light of Ortiz. They have a similar fire power and are natural competitors at all levels. Every successful team has one of those types of guys in their clubhouse, in the dugout, and on the field; whether it be with a bat, on the mound or with a glove. Those guys are typically clutch performers, as well.
During one of Sale’s spring training starts back in March, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Sale failed to make a routine play and cover first, allowing the runner to reach when the inning could have ended. In response, Sale punched himself in the head with the baseball and was visibly furious in himself, also repeatedly calling himself out for it post-game. Keep in mind, this was a spring training game that nobody will ever remember. I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of a guy getting so livid at himself in a spring training game. That right there is the epitome of Chris Sale. Every single day, all he’s trying to do is get better and better; the dedication is second to none, as you can tell. Sale means business, and you can bet that you’re going to get the absolute most out of him every time he takes the mound.
Going back in comparison to those four pitchers, another telling difference between Sale and them is the contract situation. Beckett signed a three-year, $30 million guaranteed contract with Boston at the start of the 2006 season. Lackey inked a 5-year, $82.5 million deal in December of ‘09. Porcello signed a 4-year, $82.5 million contract in 2015. Last but certainly not least, Price notoriously signed a 7-year, $217 million deal at the end of 2015. Sale? Well, he was simply traded to Boston just a few months ago. Unlike the others, Sale has a whole lot less pressure on him to succeed, and that’s putting it lightly. Fans still expect him to perform, of course, but he doesn’t have any huge dough to live up to. I honestly feel that even if the Red Sox acquired him as a free agent, Sale would still have a much better debut season in Boston compared to others.
A tiny detail that could potentially play a big role in the coming months/years, is that Sale has no social media. Zip. Nada. No Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no nothing. He recently said that the only way he sees what people are writing or saying about him is if his family brings it up to him. Unlike one certain Red Sox pitcher, Sale doesn’t let trolls get to him because the trolls have literally no way of reaching him. You’ll never ever hear anything about Sale’s feelings getting hurt by some dude on Twitter with ten followers. I could get used to that, and you probably could, too.
I’m not sure if you knew this or not, but Christopher Sale is really good at pitching at the big league level, and he’s got the numbers to prove it. Buckle up: Sale has finished top-five in Cy Young voting every year for the last four seasons. Since 2012, Sale ranks third in adjusted ERA (133) and in total strikeouts (1,133), seventh in ERA (3.04) and sixth in OPS against (.635). Sale’s walk-to-strikeout ratio (4.78) is the second best by any pitcher over the last 140 years. Yes, one hundred and forty years. That’s better than Madison Bumgarner (4.32), Clayton Kershaw (4.037), Curt Schilling (4.38) and Pedro Martinez (4.15). Sale is probably Boston’s most talented pitcher since Big Schill, so there’s that. Schilling is third all-time on that K-BB ratio list, just behind Sale and Tommy Bond (5.03). Sale also led the American League in strikeouts in 2015 with 247, and then struck out 233 in 2016.
My point there is, is that Chris Sale is really good. Absolutely nobody is underrating him, but it’s still amazing to sit back and look at what he’s done and realize that he’s on your favorite baseball team. The Red Sox are truly getting a one-of-a-kind baseball talent, and he’s going to have a monster year with his new team, being the first new Red Sock to do so in quite some time. Sale rarely talked during spring training and even declined Opening Day interviews, most likely to stay away from the spotlight for as long as he can and give his teammates a chance to shine. You don’t see that every day, especially from a baseball player, of all athletes. He doesn’t speak much, instead he lets his pitching and performance on the baseball diamond do the talking. That’s something that the Red Sox desperately needed coming into this season, and the franchise got one of the best guys to do just that.