If you spent a high draft pick on Chris Sale this year (if you have Sale on your team, you likely did), you haven’t been happy so far. In his first start against the Seattle Mariners, Sale pitched just three innings and gave up seven runs with only four strikeouts. In his next start against the Oakland Athletics, he went six innings with just one earned run, which is great, but also just one strikeout.
But if there’s one story that’s circulating about Sale, it’s his diminished velocity. In his two games so far, his average velocity is at the lowest point it has ever been in his career: 90.8 mph (his previous career low was 93.5 mph in 2012).
Given that Sale has had some health problems (most notably a shoulder problem that landed him on the IL last year), it’s fair to wonder if this diminished velocity is something Sale owners should panic about.
So, should you panic? Well, let’s take a look at exactly what Sale has been doing so far. Reporters have been asking the Boston Red Sox about Sale’s health and his fastball velocity and the team’s defense so far has been that Sale threw a lot last year and is just taking it easy early on to build up his arm strength.
When asked about it, team pitching coach Dana LeVangie said, “You guys want him to pitch the whole year, or do you want him to go out and throw 100 right now and not be there for his team? He’s building. He had a long year last year. He’s building up to be the guy he wants to be. He started last year similar. We’re getting to that point, but just not right now.”
Sale did start last year in a similar fashion, though his velocity wasn’t nearly as low as it is this year. However, the rest of the evidence seems to validated what LeVangie is saying — Sale is just taking it easy.
Take a look at these two GIFs, the first from 2018 and the second from 2019, and watch Sale’s delivery:
The first shows a 96 mph fastball and the second a 90 mph fastball and, honestly, I think it’s fairly easy to tell that there’s a lot more effort in the first GIF than the second.
It just seems like Sale isn’t going through his full delivery and putting behind the effort he usually does when he’s throwing upwards of 95 mph.
That assertion has made itself clear in the amount of extension (how far in front of the mound rubber he releases the ball) he has been getting this year as well. In the two games he has pitched so far this year, he has gotten less release extension than all but one start last year:
That’s important, because there is a relation between Sale’s release extension and the velocity on his fastball. It also shows, again, he’s doing something different with his delivery — the most likely difference being he’s not doing his full, usual delivery.
I get it if you’re worried about injury, especially given he had a shoulder injury last year and those things don’t just go away by magic. But if Sale’s shoulder was bothering him, we’d more than likely see his vertical release point dropping and that hasn’t been the case this year; his release point is right in line with where it was last year.
Maybe Sale really is just building up his arm, or maybe he’s still working things out because of his delayed spring training. Either way, I don’t think Sale is hurt. If he were, I don’t think the Red Sox would have said they were comfortable with his health information after signing him to a five-year extension.
So what’s the fantasy takeaway from all of this? Don’t panic on Chris Sale — don’t sell low on him just yet. If he gets to his home opener on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays and is still throwing 88 mph on his fastball, then you can start to worry a bit. But for now, hold tight — I think Sale will be back to normal sooner rather than later. And if you can find a fantasy owner in your league who is panicking and is welling to sell Sale (WORDPLAY) for pennies on the dollar, then take advantage and buy low on him.
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire
I have a hot take about this. I think he is under orders from management to not try to pitch at 100 mph. Especially after signing an extension. His stuff still plays at 92 mph.
It’s it possible all the innings he’s pitched has taken a toll on his arm. King Felix and Tim Lincecum weren’t hurt either and they lost their Velo. Could just be he’s getting older and more taxed. We’ll see
Yeah as a Sox fan, I fear that Mike P is correct. But, he’s no KIng Felix, that kid is lazy. Tim Lincecum was great until he lost that gittey-up step for the fastball. All i know is that they babied Sale in September for the playoffs so I chose not to draft him at 12th overall in the 2nd round