First up is Chris Sale who comes in at number forty-three on this year’s list, a huge drop from 2019 when he was ranked at number nine. It’s not surprising that he’d fall this low as the 2019 season was his worst since he came into the league in 2010 and started his first full season in 2012. Especially glaring is the drop in his numbers from 2018 (which his 2019 ranking was based on) and what he did in 2019.
2018: 12-4 W-L, 2.11 ERA, 237 K, 34 BB, 158.0 IP, 0.861 WHIP (27 starts)
2019: 6-11 W-L, 4.40 ERA, 218 K, 37 BB, 147.1 IP, 1.086 WHIP (25 starts)
What’s remarkable is that other than his W-L and ERA, those numbers don’t look so different between the two seasons. The 0.861 WHIP in 2018 is otherworldly, but the 1.086 WHIP in 2019 is still quite good and one any pitcher would be proud to have. Sale also battled injuries late in both seasons. The major difference is how he pitched in each season (and yes, the lack of run support he got in 2019 also hurt him).
In 2018, Sale’s stuff was as electric and dynamic as ever and he was utterly dominant until he fatigued and started dealing with arm issues as the season wound down. The Red Sox were so far ahead in the standings that they were able to curtail his workload in September before the postseason run in October. That was in stark contrast to 2019 where Sale and the entire pitching staff were under-prepared coming out of spring training when the season started.
Once it began, Sale didn’t look right at all with his speed diminished and his stuff flat and lacking movement. In the starts where he did pitch great, he suffered from lack of run support (remember the back-to-back starts where he fanned seventeen and fourteen batters and lost both games). His poor 2019 season combined with his injury status contributed to his precipitous fall in the rankings.
With no clear timetable for when Sale will be ready to pitch in 2020, if he’s even able to pitch this year without requiring Tommy John surgery, it’s not clear what the Red Sox can expect from him. If recent history is anything to go by, it’ll most likely be more similar to what he did in 2019 than 2018.