Two teams named after footwear shook up the baseball world at the Winter Meetings. Of course, I am referencing the trade that sent Chris Sale from the White Sox to the Red Sox. This move propelled the Red Sox to American League favorites, while starting a rebuilding process for the White Sox. At this point, you have heard many takes on what this means to these teams.
The question any real Fantasy owner instantly asks about this trade is: How will this affect Chris Sale’s Fantasy value? It is hard to improve on Sale’s value, as many already have him as a SP1 in Fantasy. Well buckle up, because I’m here to tell you that this trade can catapult him even higher! He can legitimately make a run at being a Top 3 starting pitcher this season due to a number of contributing factors, perhaps none bigger than pitch framing.
While you have likely been hearing more and more about pitch framing the past few years, you are probably thinking, really? Pitch framing is the thing that is going to make Chris Sale even better? And the answer is, yes. Last season no starting pitcher in the American League was more negatively affected by pitch framing than Chris Sale, according to Baseball Prospectus. In fact, their numbers indicate that poor pitch framing led to 6.3 additional runs for Sale. That led the American League and was second in all of baseball behind just Brandon Finnegan (7.8 runs).
Sale was not the only White Sox pitcher affected by poor pitch framing. Jose Quintana finished third in this category, with a total of 5.3 runs due to pitch framing. In fact, 41 pitchers had an extra two runs or more due to pitch framing, according to Baseball Prospectus. Of those 41, nine, yes NINE, were on the White Sox last season (Mat Latos and James Shields finished elsewhere). The White Sox had an epidemic of poor pitch framing, and it clearly hurt Sale last season.
Will this improve in Boston? Here is a look at how pitch framing affected their starters (the lower the number the better).
While those numbers all sit right around average, that is much better than the worst in the league, which is what Sale dealt with this past year with the White Sox. Not only would improved pitch framing help lower Sale’s ERA, which was 3.34 in 2016, it could lead to a slight uptick in strikeouts.
Now, for those of you who have had enough of pitch framing, there are more reasons to believe Sale can improve.
One thing you may hear is that Sale is set to face tougher opponents now that he is in the AL East. Looking at pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched this season, eight of the top nine in opponent OPS are from the AL East. However, that argument is discredited when you realize none of those eight are with the Red Sox. Facing the toughest offense in the league last season certainly drove up this number for every non-Boston AL East team. But Sale will have that offense providing runs for him.
In fact, the highest Boston pitcher in this category is Eduardo Rodriguez, who finished 35th. David Price, Boston’s prized lefty, finished 62nd in this category with an oppOPS of .737. Sale finished 91st in this category last season, with an oppOPS of .727, according to Baseball Prospectus. So, as you can see, he may face stiffer competition more regularly, but it is not nearly as dramatic a shift as one may be led to believe.
Additionally, his AL East opponents have not faired well against him in the past. Against Sale in his career, the Orioles (.296) are the only team to bat above .200 against him. That trend stayed true in 2016, as the Orioles batted .250 against him, with all the other AL East teams were below the Mendoza line.
But wait, there’s more! While Sale has been consistent both at home and on the road throughout his career, that was not the case in 2016. Last season in 104.1 innings at home, Sale pitched to a 3.88 ERA, and a 4.32 FIP, and allowed teams to slug .436 against him. However, in 122.1 innings on the road, those numbers drop to a 2.87 ERA, 2.73 FIP, and a .315 slugging percent against.
He has not pitched great in Fenway in his career, which is worrisome as a lefty in that ballpark, but he has fared well in other AL East ballparks. Here are his numbers in each stadium.
|Fenway Park (BOS)||22.1||3.63||1.119|
|Yankee Stadium (NY)||30.0||1.80||0.900|
|Camden Yards (BAL)||25.1||2.49||1.461|
|Tropicana Field (TB)||31.1||1.44||0.670|
|Rogers Center (TOR)||25.0||1.80||0.920|
Add in the fact that Boston ranked third in team wOBA against lefties and no other AL East team finished in the Top 10, with the Orioles and Yankees finishing in the bottom third of the league in this category, and you should not have concerns about the shift to the AL East.
I will not say there are absolutely no reasons to worry about Sale, as his strikeouts dipped and he did post a career high FIP (3.46) in 2016. Still, there is plenty of reason to believe that this shift will help his value. Sale should be drafted as a Top 5 starting pitcher, with upside. How often can you say that?
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