Chris Sale Deserves Your American League Final All-Star Vote
As a White Sox fan, I was content with having two All-Star locks heading into the reveal of the teams. I was hopeful that Alexei Ramirez would make the American League squad, but I figured two was sufficient seeing as the Sox aren’t even playing .500 ball. Sure enough, when I checked out the AL team after the Sunday reveal, I found there were two White Sox representatives heading to Minnesota, just as I expected. Yup, just as I thought, Jose Abreu and Ramirez were headed to Target Field.
“Wait, what?! Chris Sale didn’t make the All-Star team?”
While my original words weren’t quite as, shall we say, publishable, this quote pretty accurately summarizes my thoughts as I realized Sale was part of the Final Vote against Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Garrett Richards, and Rick Porcello for the last AL All-Star spot. numberFire’s very own Ari Ross wrote a great piece about why Kluber should win the Final Vote, and while I agree he deserves a place on the team (over Max Scherzer, David Price, and Mark Buehrle), Sale is absolutely more deserving of your vote.
Let’s Play a Game
I’m sure you all have read a sports article that compares two mystery players to each other by the numbers and tasks you with figuring out who they both are. That’s precisely what's going on here.
The following table contains the 2014 numbers of two big league starting pitchers:
Player 1 is Sale. He’s thrown 87.1 innings as a result of a DL stint, but his ERA Minus (ERA-) and WAR numbers are truly impressive. If you don’t already know about ERA-, it is a way of scaling ERA to where 100 is the league average. An ERA- of 53, like both of our pitchers have, means their respective earned run averages are 47% better than league average. That’s really, really good. For our purposes here, I used fWAR (FanGraphs’ version of WAR), and the fact that Sale has accumulated nearly 3.0 wins above replacement despite having missed a decent chunk of the season is pretty remarkable.
So who’s that second guy?
Player 2 is Clayton Kershaw. He, like Sale, has missed time this season with injury and hasn’t reached the 100 inning plateau as a result. You’ll notice that his ERA- and WHIP numbers are exactly the same as Sale’s, but he does have a better WAR. However, while Kershaw has been marked as the clear front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award, Sale didn’t even make the All-Star Team. I’m not suggesting Sale has been as good as Kershaw because he hasn’t been. Obviously, I cherry-picked these stats a bit as Kershaw has a more impressive K/9 (11.85 to 9.89) and FIP (1.48 to 2.49), but the differences between the way the two have pitched this year are hardly staggering enough to consider one of them the best pitcher in 2014 and the other not even an All-Star.
Chris vs. Corey
When you really look at the numbers amongst the five AL Final Vote candidates, it’s pretty clear that Sale and Kluber are the top options. Let’s go ahead and look at some of their numbers compared head to head:
These numbers speak volumes as to why Sale is the clear choice over Kluber. In 2014, Sale is striking out batters at a slightly higher rate than Kluber, while walking them less frequently. The FIP and xFIP numbers are remarkably close, but Sale has a significantly better ERA- than Kluber. To show what ERA- means again, Kluber’s ERA is 25% better than league average, while Sale’s is almost doubly-better than that at 47% better than league average. While Kluber has the edge in WAR, it’s almost entirely because he has started more games. While health is obviously important in deciding all-stars, Sale still has a relatively large body of work this season, and he has performed better than Kluber in the games he has played.
Sale has started 13 games to Kluber’s 19. To do some rudimentary number crunching, Kluber has accumulated 0.179 WAR for each start while Sale has garnered a significantly higher 0.223 WAR in each of his starts. So, by that pace, Sale would have a WAR of just over 4.2 through 19 starts, easily topping Kluber's 3.4. It's not a perfect way to evaluate Sale's production, and again I understand the importance of health, but it does go aways in showing Sale has been the better performer in 2014.
When both guys are healthy, as they are now, I want the guy who is the better pitcher. Brief injury stint aside, that is undoubtedly Christopher Allen Sale. Hop aboard the movement and #TargetSale for your AL Final Vote.