Stop Selling Sale Short

I feel like I shouldn’t have to warn others about how dumb some hot takes could be. People know how dumb or unfounded some of these opinions are, and yet we still have shows on ESPN and Fox Sports 1 wanting everyone to “embrace debate”, no matter how idiotic the opinion actually is. Usually, the quick and easy way to ignore it is a blunt dismissal – quote tweet said opinion with a snarky rebuttal, tell your wily uncle that he’s wrong on Facebook, etc. Anything to quickly get it out of your face while telling the world that it’s stupid. That’ll suffice most of the time.

However, thanks to Sunday Night Baseball this previous weekend, a new, more viral hot take emerged.

See, the fact that the poll existed was bad enough. But the 60/40 split for Corey Kluber? That is absolutely and utterly absurd.

There should be no reason why anyone should think those two are even close in the race for the American League Cy Young Award, much less have Kluber on top. But here we are, debating something that shouldn’t being a debate, and me, having to reinforce the idea that Chris Sale is the clear-cut Cy Young award winner right now – and it’s not close.

So let’s start with the basics. Counting stats:

Player IP W-L H ER BB SO
Chris Sale 189.2 15-7 141 60 37 270
Corey Kluber 168.2 14-4 118 48 33 222

At first, you can kind of see the basis of the argument. Kluber has fewer hits and earned runs, practically the same amount of walks, and a strikeout total that’s (relative to the rest of the AL) comparable to Sale. Add some critical thinking to the mix, and that argument falls apart rather quickly. One thing you should notice is that there’s a 21 inning difference between the two here, due to the face that Kluber was placed on the disabled list on May 3rd due to lower back discomfort, and did not return until June 1st, so that’s one month’s difference. As we’ll get to in a bit, that makes the 48 strikeout difference in their totals loom larger. To reach Sale’s strikeout total at the same amount of innings, Kluber will have to record a strikeout for 48 of the next 63 outs. That’s not exactly feasible, and any attempt at that would certainly worsen several of the other stats.

Holding worse counting stats against Sale because he’s pitched more innings isn’t fair, so let’s jump into the rates:

Chris Sale 2.85 2.20 2.18 36.1% 4.9% 31.1%
Corey Kluber 2.56 2.55 2.20 34.3% 5.1% 29.2%

This is where we see the scales start tipping in Sale’s favor. Outside of ERA, Sale holds a lead – however marginal – in the rest of the categories. You see how Sale has been more efficient in recording strikeouts, and why that 48-strikeout difference we saw earlier is telling. Sale’s been the recipient of some bad luck as well, with that 35-point difference in FIP being the biggest gap in this group, and he might be due for a little bit of a correction. This isn’t some massive victory for the Sale camp here, but this one’s leaning more toward the southpaw than it is Kluber.

Now, time for the value stats:

Chris Sale 7.19 7.5 5.5
Corey Kluber 6.35 6.0 6.5

Sale has a clear lead in BP’s WARP, and the lefty is just running away with it in Fangraphs’ WAR, as he’s even beating Jose Altuve by a full win in that statistic. However, Baseball Reference sees it the other way with their WAR stat, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. Unlike the rate stats, this one’s pretty far on Sale’s side. You can see that Chris Sale is the obvious leader for Cy Young right now, and it would take a sizable collapse to let Kluber come even. Yes, injuries suck and you can’t control them, but a month gone is a month where you’re not adding any extra value.

So why is there even a debate? There’s a couple reasons why this is even being brought up, especially now.

Firstly is plain old recency bias. Since the All-Star break, Kluber has been dominant, posting a 2.27 ERA and 2.71 FIP with two complete games. However, Sale has matched him step-for-step, and even though his ERA in that span is 3.05, that’s only a difference of two earned runs. So the gap shrinks every time you look a little harder. What people aren’t noticing is how these two aces give up their runs. Kluber hasn’t had a scoreless outing since June 24th, but more often than not, he’ll keep the other team to fewer than three runs in any given start. Sale doesn’t spread out the earned runs like that. When he gets hit, he gets hit hard. His runs come in big, notable bunches. The games in the second half between top AL contenders are the ones people tend to pay more attention to, and when Sale gets shelled in one of them, it’ll become a bigger deal than it usually is. This is all despite the fact that in the first half of the season, Sale was unquestionably better in nearly every category. People are questioning what these two have done lately, not what they’ve done as a whole, and it’s skewing how they should be viewed.

The second and more insidious reason is narrative crafting. I know I’m about to sound like some right-wing conspiracy theorist here, but look at the tweet above. Look at how the pundits acted during the last couple weeks. It wasn’t a “wow, Sale’s really running away with it!” reaction, it was “hey Kluber’s been great, Cy Young, yeah?”. Look, I get that it might be a little bland with the award races right now. Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge are Rookie of the Year locks, Altuve and Trout are battling for MVP again, Max Scherzer is leading the NL Cy Young race, and everyone’s just waiting Giancarlo Stanton to hit 60 homers so they can write him in for NL MVP. But by no means does that mean you have to concoct this drivel. You want a narrative? BP’s own Mike Gianella has a suggestion. It’s not hard. It even brings up the old debate of if a starter is deserving of an MVP award over a position player. So there’s something different and better to yell at each other about.

I get the Kluber talk. He’s had an amazing season! But there’s a difference between amazing and otherworldly, and the latter is the season Chris Sale is having. We have to include the entire season in our judgments, and we can’t disregard what Chris Sale has already done to uplift Corey Kluber. Just because Sale isn’t obscenely dominant right now does not mean he’s slipping, and to think that he’s lost out to Kluber because of that is idiocy. There is no debate, nor should there be.

Photo by Kevin Sousa – USA TODAY Sports

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1 comment on “Stop Selling Sale Short”


Unconvincing article. The two are very close thanks to Sale’s run of intermittent poor starts. The last few weeks of the season may make things clearer one way or the other. I suspect that Sale’s poorer career stats in the month of September have cost him a Cy or two in the past.

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