Let's stir things up a bit!
On Thursday, a bunch of us will publish our suggested All-Star rosters. I'm torn about a few positions but especially torn about who deserves to start on the mound for the American League. The more I think about it, the more my gut says to quit thinking about it and say it: Chris Sale should start the All-Star Game.
I want my All-Star starters to be dominant. I want my All-Star starters to be transcendent pitchers, or at least have that kind of ability. I want them to be the kind of guys who lead opposing batters to say, "Trying to hit him was like trying to drink coffee with a fork."
That's Chris Sale, the dynamic southpaw for the Chicago White Sox. On Tuesday night, he crushed the best-in-baseball St. Louis Cardinals with 12 strikeouts in eight innings. He ended up with a no-decision as the White Sox eventually won 2-1 in 11 innings. He made one mistake -- a home run to Randal Grichuk in the fourth inning -- but he recorded his eighth consecutive start with at least 10 strikeouts. Here's the complete list of players to do that:
That's it. Randy Johnson never did it. Nolan Ryan never did it. Sandy Koufax never did it. Sure, strikeouts are at an all-time high, but the achievement is still impressive in this era when starters rarely go nine innings. Sale's run began on May 23 and it has gone like this: 10 K's in 8 IP, 12 in 7.2, 13 in 7, 14 in 8, 12 in 6.2, 14 in 8, 10 in 6.2, 12 in 8. In those eight games, he has faced 228 batters and struck out 97 of them -- 42.5 percent of the batters he has faced. How dominant is that? Not one reliever -- pitching in short bursts -- has struck out 42 percent of the batters he has faced this season.
OK, before fans of the Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics get riled up, there are four strong candidates to start for the AL (with apologies to Felix Hernandez and David Price). One of those is Dallas Keuchel, who had his own brilliant outing on Tuesday, tossing eight scoreless innings with seven K's and no walks as the Houston Astros beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0. Here are the numbers for the four:
Chris Sale: 6-4, 2.87 ERA, 103.1 IP, 78 H, 22 BB, 141 SO, 8 HR
Dallas Keuchel: 10-3, 2.03 ERA, 124.1 IP, 88 H, 31 BB, 102 SO, 7 HR
Sonny Gray: 9-3, 2.09 ERA, 107.2 IP, 81 H, 26 BB, 97 SO, 5 HR
Chris Archer: 9-5, 2.31 ERA, 109 IP, 79 H, 25 BB, 133 SO, 9 HR
All four are deserving starters; I'm not knocking any of these guys. Yes, I'm going with the guy with fewer wins and a higher ERA. Let's compare Sale to each guy.
Sale versus Archer
Like Sale, Archer has racked up the strikeouts, ranking second to Sale in both K's per nine and strikeout rate. He's fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio. One stat we keep track of at ESPN is "well-hit average." This is the percentage of total at-bats that ended with a well-struck ball. Archer is significantly behind the other three guys:
Gray, Sale and Keuchel rank 1-2-3 in the AL; Archer ranks 30th. This suggests, more than the other three, that Archer has benefited from some good fortune, some good defense or a little of both. Archer's track record is also more limited. He was good last season but this is his breakout-into-greatness campaign. But it's also only half a season of greatness.
Sale versus Gray
Like Archer, Gray has taken his game to the next level. That curveball is so beautiful it should make the English give up cricket. There's not much to poke at in his statistical line. Except Sale has 44 more strikeouts in four fewer innings. Yeah, strikeouts are fascist. But that's what I want in my All-Star starter. Remember when Brad Penny started the All-Star Game against Kenny Rogers? Not what I'm looking for. Now, I think Gray is going to have a better career than Penny, but his skills are certainly less obvious than Sale's nasty whip-like motion that makes it so difficult for batters to pick up the ball. Plus, we get back to a longer reign of dominance: Sale had a 2.17 ERA last season and has received Cy Young votes the past three seasons.
Sale versus Keuchel
This is a little tougher as Keuchel was good last year and has been ever better this season. Part of me would like to reward the Astros for their strong first half. And Keuchel's beard is not just All-Star worthy -- it's Hall of Fame worthy. Because Sale missed a couple starts at the start of the season, Keuchel has more innings and that's valuable. I think, however, that's more of an element for a Cy Young debate than an All-Star debate. In the end, it's the strikeouts: As a ground-ball specialist, Keuchel does rely more on his defense. Sale just blows the ball past hitters.
So Sale is my guy. My gut says he's the best pitcher in the American League.