Is Red Sox lefty Chris Sale still THE Chris Sale?
No Red Sox player has more to prove than Chris Sale. After missing over two years with various neck and arm injuries, most notably Tommy John surgery, Sale returned in August of last season, but he was a fraction of his former self. That was particularly true down the stretch, as he had a 7.22 ERA over his last five games, averaging less than three innings per appearance.
Besides the lackluster stats and inability to work deep into games, what’s worrisome about Sale was the drop-off in stuff. His fastball was a tick below his prime with much less command, while his slider lacked its usual depth. His changeup, meanwhile, was so inconsistent that Sale essentially dropped it from his arsenal. A mechanical adjustment in the ALCS upped his velocity and the sharpness of his slider, but still not to pre-2019 levels.
What will be important for Sale this spring is not so much the actual results but rather the quality of his pitches and the confidence he pitches with. The difference between when Sale is pitching with conviction and when he is passive is monumental, and there was far too much of the latter last year. While it’s unlikely Sale will ever fully recapture the triple-digit velocity of his prime, he’s still young enough that there is hope he can still somewhat resemble that guy. If he can start showing that this spring, the rest of the American League better watch out.