Red Sox: Is Chris Sale a legitimate MVP Candidate?

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21: A multiple exposure image of Chris Sale
ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 21: A multiple exposure image of Chris Sale /

It’s no secret Red Sox ace Chris Sale has been dominant this season, but has he been good enough to take home both of the American League top honors?

If you ask 100 fans to pick the MVP of the 2017 Boston Red Sox, I bet that at least 99% of them would agree on one man: Christopher Allen Sale.

Sale was acquired from the Chicago White Sox last December, and was excellent as soon as he put on the Red Sox uniform. His April 5 start (7 IP, 0ER, 7Ks) set the tone for his whole season.

He followed that game up by tying his personal record of eight straight games with 10+ strikeouts. A run like that has only been accomplished by one other, former Red Sox great Pedro Martinez.

Streaks be damned, in 21 starts this season Chris Sale has struck out 10+ 14 times. If you bump that qualifier down to 9+ (which is almost a better metric considering a lineup has 9 batters), he’s done it 18(!) times. That means he’s striking out at least 9 batters in 86% of his starts. That is unreal. He’s putting up video game numbers out here.

On top of the league leading 211 strikeouts, he’s currently leading the American League in ERA (2.37) and wins (13). If this pace continues, it looks like Sale has a legitimate shot at being the first pitcher to capture the AL Triple Crown since Justin Verlander in 2011. He would be the first Red Sox pitcher to take that title since Pedro did it in 1999.

This article could be about Sale and his shot at the Cy Young award. It’s not.

Sale is the AL Cy Young favorite by leaps and bounds. Sure, there’s an argument to be made for Corey Kluber (2.74 ERA, 8W, 149 Ks) or maybe Marcus Stroman (2.98 ERA, 9W, 105 Ks). However, it’s hard to imagine either of them going on such a dominant run that they edge out Sale. If he can stay healthy, it’s is his to lose.

This post is about Sale’s shot at being the first American League pitcher to take home the Cy Young AND the MVP award since Verlander did it in 2011.

So does he have a chance?

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Let’s look at the last pitchers to achieve this honor and see how Sale stacks up against his peers.

We’re gonna do some projections here and see how Sale might end the year. Sale figures to have 11 more starts this season on regular rest. Let’s assume that the Red Sox face another bout of pitcher injury/ineffectiveness and decide to use a day off to their advantage and squeeze him for one more start. That’s 12 more starts for The Condor.

In 21 games this season, Sale has been averaging seven innings per start, so we’ll use that number and say that he’ll pitch 84 more innings season. His K/9 is sitting at 12.8 which puts him on pace for another 119 strikeouts.

That gives him a cool 330 strikeouts, good for the 31st most Ks in one season. Even without an extra start, he’d still be on pace for over 300 strikeouts, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the AL since Pedro Martinez did it in his 1999 season. Starting to see a trend here? Good company for Sale.

Next up, let’s look at his projected ERA.

Since June 4, he’s lowered his ERA .52 points. Lowering a sub-3.00 ERA is impressive enough, but by that much? He’s posted a 1.04 ERA over his last five games, so potentially he ends up even lower than his current 2.37 ERA.

However, we’re going to project his next 12 games based on his last 12, and those numbers say he puts up a 2.50 ERA. That’s 23 more earned runs this season, bumping his season ERA to a spectacular 2.40.

Next up, the worst metric for pitcher success, and the most difficult to project: wins. There’s not a ton that Sale can do to influence his win totals besides continuing to pitch lights out and hoping his team backs him up.

Out of his four losses this season, he allowed more than two earned runs once. And it was only four over seven innings. Can’t pitch much better than that.

Given the current state of the Red Sox offense, this is mostly a guess here. Let’s say in his next 12 games Sale ends up with seven wins. Currently he has a 62% win percentage so that’s more or less in line with those numbers.

The numbers project Sale to end the season with a 2.40 ERA, 330 Ks, and a 19-6 record. Is that good enough to take both awards?

Kershaw in ‘15 won both with a 1.77 ERA, 239 Ks, and a 21-3 record. More wins and a lower ERA, but almost 100 strikeouts less than Sale. That was also in the National League, where the pitcher has the advantage of not facing a DH each game. 

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Verlander’s aforementioned 2011 campaign ended with a 2.40 ERA, 250Ks, and a 24-5 record. Again, more wins, but the same ERA and significantly less strikeouts.

If Sale continues at this level of dominance, he should end up with some pretty impressive numbers. However history tells us it would really help his case if he can crack 20 wins.

Even if he does crack 20 it’s still no guarantee he’d take MVP trophy. Pedro Martinez’s spectacular 1999 season saw him finish with a 2.07 ERA, 313 SOs, and a 23-4 record, a Cy Young and a (much contested) second place MVP finish. The same thing could happen to Sale in a year where there are two or three legitimate offensive challengers (Mike Trout, Jose Altuve or Aaron Judge).

Next: Red Sox expressing interest in Twins closer Brandon Kintzler

No matter what happens, there should be some exciting baseball to watch over the last third of the season.