Key Stats: Chris Sale had an 0.84 WHIP in the second half of last season and struck out 41 hitters in 34.2 innings. That’s domination. Of course Sale accomplished all of this as a reliever and skeptics will argue that it’s easier to pitch when he is being brought into favorable situations. That certainly is the case to some extent, but as far as his lefty/righty splits, Sale held both lefties and righties to an OPS of .660 or under.
Skeptics Say: If he is not in the White Sox rotation or in the closers role to start the year, his value obviously takes a hit. And if he is named a starter or closer tomorrow, there’s no telling what he can do. He’s never handled the day-to-day pressures of being a closer nor has he had to face the same hitters twice or three times in an outing. As our own Josh Shepardson has alluded to, if Sale is a starter he is not going to be able to throw as hard as he did this past season (mid 90s).
Peer Comparison: The issue of starter versus reliever is not new. We’ve seen teams like the Red Sox and Rangers tinker with the idea with Jonathan Papelbon and Neftali Feliz before ultimately opting for the status quo. Adam Wainwright and Derek Lowe are among those that went from the role of reliever and then remained starters. The question that always is asked before making a decision one way or another is can the player handle the stress of more innings pitched.
Sale only threw 71 innings last year and doesn't really have a minor league career to speak of. Given his wiry frame and hard-throwing style, injuries will be a huge consideration before the White Sox make him a starter. Here is a look at some other pitchers who have made the jump from reliever to starter over the years and there increase in innings:
C.J. Wilson - 74 innings in 2009 and 204 in 2010
Brandon Morrow - 70 innings in 2009 and 146 innings in 2010
Justin Masterson - 129 innings in 2009 and 180 innings in 2010
Wainwright - 75 innings in 2005 and 202 innings in 2006
Francisco Liriano - 23 innings in 2005 and 121 innings in 2006
Lowe - 91.2 innings in 2001 and 219 innings in 2002
Although Wainwright just had Tommy John surgery and Liriano has also had to go under the knife, all of these pitchers have had some degree of success in their transitions to the larger workload. The key to remember is that almost all pitchers are originally drafted as starters (as Sale was). This isn't like the Oakland A's asking Scott Hatteberg to play first base (love that scene in Moneyball).
Team Outlook: Josh’s outlook above really dives into the situation with the White Sox. What will likely happen is that Sale will beat out Zach Stewart to be named as the team’s “number five starter” but he really has the biggest upside on their staff for fantasy purposes. Even if Stewart wins the number five job, Sale will get a chance to start because Jake Peavy can’t pitch more than 150 innings in a season.
One other player to keep an eye on is Sergio Santos. He came from seemingly nowhere in 2011 to be an effective full-time closer. Bullpen guys can be radically inconsistent, and if Santos falters Sale has a chance to benefit fantasy teams as a closer.
Projection: The White Sox thought about making Sale a starter last year, but ultimately chickened out. After failing to meet expectations last year, Sale to the rotation will be one of the changes the White Sox hope will turn things around.
14 Wins 145 K 3.35 ERA 1.23 WHIP in 150 innings