Chris Sale and a Dominant June

Now that Chris Sale’s historic strikeout streak has ended, it seems an appropriate time to marvel at the dominance Sale has shown. Over an eight-game stretch from May 23 through June 30, Sale had the following line:

IP H R ER BB SO ERA AVG OPS BABIP
60.0 37 14 12 9 97 1.80 .172 .481 .287

I’ve included BABIP to show that Sale was not on some incredibly low BABIP streak. League BABIP this season currently sits at .297. Sale’s career BABIP is .286. Without showing the normal indications for extreme luck, Chris Sale turned opposing lineups into a bunch of light-hitting middle infielders. For comparison, below is the season-to-date line for Indians SS Jose Ramirez.

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+
170 .180 .247 .240 .487 .223 39

The fact that the White Sox were only 4-4 in those eight games speaks to how badly the White Sox have played during 2015. Of those eight starts, six occurred during the month of June. It is these starts I’d like to focus on through the lens of pitch values relative to the rest of the league. I’ve posted some previous work on pitch values. The framework for the calculations can be found here. I’ve made some tweaks to the calculations, mainly to allow for player specific Balls/BB and Strikes/K to be calculated and league specific adjustments rather than MLB-wide constants.

According to Brooks Baseball, Sale threw 694 pitches during the month of June with a pitch mix of 45% Four-seam Fastball, 25% Changeup, 22% Slider, and 8% Sinker. The sinker was clearly Sale’s worst pitch in June. With the 55 sinkers thrown, Sale managed to give up six hits (11%). With the other 639 pitches, he gave up 21 hits (3%). So just how good were his other pitches? Chris Sale accumulated 2.9 WAR by my calculations over the month of June. He accumulated 0.0 of that from his sinker. For reference, here is the top ten in WAR from the month of June.

Player PV-WAR fWAR Average
Chris Sale 2.9 2.5 2.7
Clay Buchholz 1.7 1.5 1.6
Jacob deGrom 1.5 1.5 1.5
Chris Archer 1.4 1.2 1.3
Madison Bumgarner 1.4 1.3 1.4
Zack Greinke 1.3 1.1 1.2
David Price 1.3 1.2 1.3
Clayton Kershaw 1.3 1.2 1.3
Max Scherzer 1.2 1.2 1.2
Lance McCullers 1.2 1.1 1.2

Sale lapped the field no matter which calculation you look at. Now, let’s take a look at a slightly adjusted version of that top-ten list.

Player PV-WAR
Chris Sale Only Fastballs 1.7
Clay Buchholz 1.7
Jacob deGrom 1.5
Chris Archer 1.4
Madison Bumgarner 1.4
Zack Greinke 1.3
David Price 1.3
Clayton Kershaw 1.3
Chris Sale No Fastballs 1.3
Max Scherzer 1.2

We can split Sale’s June into two separate pitchers, and both “Sales” were top-ten in Pitch Value WAR accumulated. The Chris Sale that threw nothing but fastballs (Four-seam Fastballs and Sinkers) was the best pitcher in baseball in June. The Chris Sale without a fastball (Sliders and Changeups) was the ninth-best pitcher in baseball. With that said, we can dig a little deeper into the value of each of his pitches. First, let’s look at Sale compared to other four-seam fastballs. The table below gives the top five most valuable four-seam fastballs as well as a pitch rating based on June data set to a 20-80 scale.

Rank Pitcher PV-WAR Rating
1 Chris Sale 1.7 62
2 Clayton Kershaw 1.0 55
3 Chris Archer 0.9 57
4 Wei-Yin Chen 0.8 58
5 Zack Greinke 0.8 54

Since WAR is a counting stat, there are two components to accumulating a high total. First, you have to throw a lot of the specified pitch type. Pitchers that threw 300 four-seam fastballs almost always accumulate more PV-WAR than those who only threw 30. Secondly, the pitch has to be of certain quality. Throwing 1000 of the world’s worst four-seam fastballs isn’t nearly as valuable as throwing 100 of the world’s best four-seam fastballs. In June, nine pitchers threw more four-seam fastballs than Chris Sale. No one that threw at least 90 total four-seam fastballs threw a better four-seam fastball than Sale. In fact, Sale’s four-seam fastball was the third highest rated qualifying pitch in June. To qualify, the pitch had to be thrown more than average for that pitch type. For example, if there were 4,000 curveballs thrown in June by 40 total pitchers, anyone who threw more than 100 curveballs would qualify. Moving on, Sale’s second most used pitch was his changeup. Here’s the table for changeups.

Rank Pitcher PV-WAR Rating
1 Chris Sale 0.5 57
2 David Price 0.4 59
3 Cole Hamels 0.4 56
4 Erasmo Ramirez 0.3 59
5 Clay Buchholz 0.3 55

Once again, Sale tops the PV-WAR rankings. He was “slacking” on his quality on his changeup though. His changeup only ranked 14th out of 126 qualifying changeups, so I guess there’s always room for improvement. The last pitch of interest for Sale is the slider. It’s the pitch I most associate with Sale, but it’s only his third most used pitch. Below is the corresponding table for sliders.

Rank Pitcher PV-WAR Rating
1 Chris Sale 0.7 61
2 Jason Hammel 0.7 57
3 Chris Archer 0.6 55
4 Tyson Ross 0.6 55
5 Joe Ross 0.4 58

I think a trend is developing. Chris Sale threw the most valuable slider in June as well. By rating, Sale finished fourth out of 129 qualifying sliders. The three pitchers above him in rating (Andrew Miller, Mark Lowe, Darren O’Day) are all relievers. To sum up, in June, Chris Sale had three pitches make up over 90% of his pitch mix. All three of those pitches were the most valuable pitch in their respective pitch types in June. He had the overall best rated four-seam fastball and the best slider thrown by a starter. His changeup was the “worst” of his three pitches and was still a top 15 rated changeup. Chris Sale was completely dominant in June. His nearest competitor for most valuable pitcher in June only accumulated a little more than half of Sale’s value. Who knows when we may see a pitcher in this much of a groove again? For curiosity’s sake, I’ve included a table with the most valuable and highest rated of each pitch type for your perusal. The overall highest rated pitch was Andrew Miller’s slider.

Pitch Type Most Valuable PV-WAR Highest Rated Rating
Four-Seam Chris Sale 1.7 Chris Sale 62
Sinker Chris Heston 0.7 Aaron Loup 62
Cutter Corey Kluber 0.5 Nick Vincent 59
Curveball Lance McCullers 0.6 Cody Allen 63
Slider Chris Sale 0.7 Andrew Miller 64
Changeup Chris Sale 0.5 Kevin Siegrist 61
Splitter Zach Putnam 0.4 Zach Putnam 61
Knuckleball R.A. Dickey 0.4 R.A. Dickey 49

We hoped you liked reading Chris Sale and a Dominant June by Stats All Folks!

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Stats All Folks is a frustrated former Little League pitcher that knows if he could have only been taller, stronger, more athletic with more velocity on his fastball, better offspeed stuff, and improved control, he could have been the first overall pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Alas, it was not in the cards for him.

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Posting Noob

I really liked the article. How did you get the tables to come out so nice? I haven’t had as much luck with my posts.