Red Sox: Can Chris Sale become the next Randy Johnson?

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox looks on after a win over the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on June 10, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 10: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox looks on after a win over the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on June 10, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Can Red Sox ace Chris Sale become dominant like Randy Johnson?

Chris Sale is about to return to the Boston Red Sox. The saga of Sale is well documented regarding his recovery from Tommy John Surgery. Each step has resulted in a significant death toll of trees to provide the print media with details. Internet-ink is running dry over each movement with the latest being a successful three innings against players who have yet to shave.

What will we get?

Sale is an incredible investment and the team will tread softly in his return. Pitch counts will be monitored, spin and break of various pitches hashed over, and just how speed may deteriorate as Sale goes deeper against top-notch competition. The Red Sox are in no hurry. The train is on the tracks for the playoffs. This is a good but not great team, but it appears our competition in the American League East is even more perplexed.

The real Sale will be next season when the lefty is 33-years-old. Deep into baseball middle age. A point where the player is into the backend of their career and that part is generally marked by deterioration. Exceptions exist and one is the noted left-handed bird killer specialist Randy Johnson  At baseball age 30 both Johnson and Sale had similar career paths.

The towering Johnson – he topped off at 6’10” – didn’t start to really roll until his mid-20s. Johnson was one of the best in the AL and won a Cy Young Award with the Seattle Mariners. Johnson – also known as “The Big Unit” – succumbed to the usual baseball disease that inflicts management and players – money. Johnson was shipped to Houston and after the season became a free agent.

Arizona did the unthinkable and handed a $52 MM/four-year deal to a 35-year-old. A stage that is one where pitchers tend to meltdown or collect a multitude of arm miseries. The four years produced four All-Star games and four straight CYA’s. And “Big Unit” teamed with Curt Schilling the Diamondbacks won a World Series.

Johnson never quite matched his 2002 season (24-5, 2.32), but continued to be productive well into his 40s. Johnson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and concluded his 22-year career with 303 wins. A career total that Sale could match if he pitches until he is 50-years-old. Different game for pitchers today.

More from Chris Sale

Sale and Johson have similar physical builds and pitching styles. Johnson never suffered a serious arm injury but both lived off a live fastball and their slider. Neither really used a curve which is startling considering the pitch is almost natural with lefties. Johnson – unlike Sale – rarely used a change-up. Late in his career, Johnson started to use a split-finger fastball more often a pitch that Sale has never placed (yet) in his arsenal.

Then there is Johan Santana. Santana – like Johnson – also won the pitching Triple Crown, buy only two CYA’s. The monster contract with the Mets had mixed results. When Santana was healthy he was dominant but the health issue was the key. Arm and knee injuries and by 31-years-old Santana was no longer an impact pitcher. Which will Sale be? Johnson or Santana? I would say neither.

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Sale should be productive for the remainder of his Red Sox contract. The work ethic is exceptional. Sale’s extremely competitive and quite conscious of his impact on his teammates, his value to the team, and undoubtedly his eventual place in baseball history. The Red Sox will slowly bring Sale along with the idea being the last two weeks of the season you will see greater leeway on the mound.