Chris Sale simply a swing-and-miss, dominating machine

He's more than just the best active starting pitcher who has never won a Cy Young Award. He's the winner of the Holy Crap I Never Want to Face That Guy competition.

He's Chris Sale, way-too-underappreciated ace of the Chicago White Sox. And I'm about to prove exactly how good he really is -- and how little the hitters of North America look forward to facing him.

All it takes is numbers to document that there's no more unhittable starter on earth with zero Cy Young trophies. And I'll be happy to unfurl all of those numbers for you, just to get you ready for Sale's marquee, stud-versus-stud matchup Friday night against Felix Hernandez.

But the second part of this exercise is way more fun. You just have to mention this dude's name to the hitters who have to hit against him. The look on their faces takes it from there.

It's pretty much the same look you see on the videos of crazy people trying to outrun the bulls in Pamplona. Those same wide eyeballs. That same flush in their cheeks. That same palpitational expression as they realize that ohhhhh no, this isn't going to end well.

"He's that guy who, [when] you see he's pitching, all of a sudden your hamstring gets tight or something," Minnesota's Brian Dozier says of Sale. "You don't know if you can make it that game."

"I try to save up any sick days or off days I have, and use them when he's starting," says Cleveland's Jason Kipnis. "I've timed it up perfectly, I think, since 2013. If I had an off day coming up, I'd push it back a week until we were playing the White Sox and use it on him. I play dodgeball with him. You know that old thing: 'How's your back?' 'Hmmm, it's tight today -- the weather must be getting to me.' Or it's the old Rodney Dangerfield thing: 'Wait. My arm. Yeah, it's my arm.' That's how I feel when I know he's pitching."

"Go ask every hitter who the top five pitchers in baseball are, and I guarantee every one of them will mention him," Philadelphia's Jeff Francoeur says of Sale. "If they don't, it means they never faced him."

Ah, but 437 active big league hitters have had that thrill of facing him. Let's just say it hasn't gone well. They're hitting a combined .224 (which works out to the approximate lifetime average of Tuffy Rhodes) -- with nearly 300 more strikeouts (945) than hits (679).

So I thought it would be kind of entertaining to ask some of those men how they'd describe the joys of hitting against Sale. And to make them feel better, I'll sprinkle in all the facts it ought to take to convince them that (A) pretty much every hitter alive feels their pain and (B) if they've been under the impression he's been particularly untouchable this season, well, they're right. Now here we go.

What a career

Can we all just agree that Clayton Kershaw is the pre-eminent starting pitcher in the sport? Thank you. I appreciate that. But who ranks right behind him? I acknowledge there are superlative arguments for Felix Hernandez, or Adam Wainwright, or Madison Bumgarner, or David Price, or a few others. But the correct answer is ...

Chris Sale. Of course.

Who's No. 1 among all active starters in WHIP (with a cutoff of 800 career innings pitched)? Kershaw naturally, at 1.04. But who's an incredibly close No. 2? That would be Sale, at 1.06.

Now ... who's No. 1 in park-adjusted ERA-plus? Right. Kershaw, at 152. Anyone want to take a stab at who's No. 2? Yep. It's Sale again, at 142.

Or let's say we look at the OPS of the hitters who face these guys. The active leader? Right. Kershaw (at .577). But guess who's next? Of course you can. It's Sale, at .621.

All right, here's another category. How about fielding independent pitching, which factors out all the parts of pitching that the pitcher can't control (such as the White Sox's often-messy leatherwork)? Who's No. 1? Kershaw yet again, at 2.67. But who's the only other active starter under 3.00? Sale, obviously, at 2.91. See a trend here anywhere?

When we play the strikeout game, we get a slightly different result. Which active starter produces the most swinging and missing? The answer to that one is not Kershaw. He's actually third (at 9.64 strikeouts per nine innings). No. 1? You've got it. That would be Sale (at 10.22), with Max Scherzer (9.71) sandwiched in between.

So ... get the idea? What you have here is basically the AL version of Kershaw, only minus the trophies.

"He and Kershaw are the two left-handers in baseball who can flat-out embarrass you," says Francoeur, a proud 3-for-21 lifetime off Sale. "No disrespect to David Price or anyone else. But when you face those two guys, they can make you feel like you never played baseball before."

What a season

And that brings us to this year. Have we properly appreciated what Chris Sale is doing to the finest hitters in our solar system this season? Correct answer: No, we haven't.

We're basically watching a Randy Johnson rerun. You understand that, right? Not since the Unit was at his Cy Young greatest have we seen any starting pitcher stir up as many breezes in the old batter's box as Sale is whipping up this year. Take a look:

• In his overpowering 15-strikeout show against the Cubs on Sunday, Sale induced 28 swings and misses. Yeah, 28. It was his fifth game just this season of 25 whiffs or more. All other AL starters put together have combined for one game of 25-plus (by Carlos Carrasco). So who's the last man to produce five games like that in one season? Yessir, Johnson, in 2002.

• That game was also Sale's 12th start with at least 20 swings and misses. And that would be the most in a season since -- you've got it -- the Big Unit, in 2002 (16 that year). No one else, in all the seasons in between, has even reached double figures.

• If Sale keeps this up, he's on pace to finish the year with 586 swings and misses. Which would be the most since -- guess who? -- Johnson piled up 637 in 2002. The only other AL pitchers who have even reached 500 in any of the 13 seasons since are Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Johan Santana.

"Go ask every hitter who the top five pitchers in baseball are, and I guarantee every one of them will mention [Chris Sale]. If they don't, it means they never faced him."
Jeff Francoeur, Phillies outfielder

No wonder Kipnis says his most memorable at-bat against Sale was one where he experienced the euphoria of, um, technically making contact. Not hard contact. Just any contact.

"The sad part is, the goal was not a hit," the Indians' second baseman laughs. "The goal was to put it in play. And I did. I made it all the way right back to him. I was waiting on one of his 98 two-seamers, and he threw one of his curveballs. I almost shocked myself by just getting the [end of the bat] on it. And I dribbled it right back to him. But I thought, 'Hey, I did my part. I got to run to first base.' So it was a success to me."

The repertoire

What these hitters find especially uplifting is that feeling that Sale can strike them out with every pitch that comes flying out of his hand. And we've discovered why they feel that way: Because he really can.

Among at-bats ending in his fastball this year, 30.7 percent have ended with a strikeout. That's the highest rate of all full-time starters who use their fastball at least as much as he does.

Among at-bats ending in a slider? An absurd 55.0 percent have turned into strikeouts. Yep, 55.0 percent. No other starter in the AL is even at 50 percent.

Sale has piled up 153 swings and misses with his changeup, too. Which ranks second only to Cole Hamels (171) in the entire sport. So there you go. That's 3-for-3 in the domination department. Good luck trying to zone in on a pitch you can actually hit.

The funny thing is, the hitters can't even agree on which of those is his best pitch. Francoeur votes for the fastball -- because "it's 94-95 [mph], and he can tail it or run it away from you. And you don't know which. If you start looking away to try to shoot one the other way, he'll see it, and he'll come in at 94, in on the hands, and just blow you up."

Dozier, meanwhile, says the development of the changeup has propelled Sale to a whole new level, and has combined with the slider to keep hitters off his fastball. Naturally, Jose Altuve says they're both wrong, because it's the slider that comes whooshing at you -- "and then the ball disappears somehow."

In truth, though, none of them have this exactly right -- because it's the devastating mix of all those pitches, and Sale's unpredictability in which of them he throws when, that have produced this hitter's nightmare which unfolds every time he takes the mound.

"You know, I've had some success against him," says Dozier, who is, in fact, a .303 lifetime hitter (10-for-33) against Sale. "And people are like, 'Oh, you see him great.' But no. He's the guy you've had some success against but you never want to face him again.

"He's punched me out plenty of times," Dozier goes on. "But one time, I really thought he'd thrown me a fastball right down the middle, so I swung as if it was a fastball. And after it was over, I thought he broke my right toe. That's how much his slider broke and disappeared. It actually hit my back right foot. Which just goes to show you. I think it's a fastball right down the middle. And it turns out to be a slider that hits me in the leg."

What's left?

There's one piece of good news for Dozier: At least he's right-handed. It's the left-handed-hitting portion of the population that really basks in the good times when Sale is 60 feet, 6 inches away. And here to speak for that left-handed-hitting populace is Prince Fielder.

"For me, it's fun because you've got a built-in excuse," Fielder says of facing Sale. "I'm not really supposed to get a hit off of him. So if you happen to get one, you're like, 'Yep. Nice.' But if you don't, you're like, 'Oh well.' You're not supposed to, you know?"

Well, he's right about that. Over Sale's career, he has pitched to 769 left-handed hitters. They've combined for 236 strikeouts (31 percent), just 143 hits (a .203 average) and (ready?) exactly three home runs. The last of those three bombs came nearly three years ago -- by Brennan Boesch, on Sept. 2, 2012.

"It seems like righties don't get hits off him, either, though," says Fielder, who is 5-for-28 (.179), with nine punchouts and no homers, off Sale. "So I don't feel too bad. The only time I get mad is if I hit a ball hard off him and someone catches it. ... You're like, 'If I hit a ball hard, it needs to be a hit,' just because it's him. He's tough."

I helpfully suggest to Prince that maybe watching video would help. He laughs so hard, his chest shakes.

"Why would I want to watch him deal?" he asks. "Now what I'll do sometimes is, you can look and see just the hits they've given up all year. ...

"But to watch the hits he's given up?" Fielder says, chuckling heartily again. "Man, that would be quick. I'd have to put it on repeat."

But the old swinging-and-missing reel? That would be the longest-running motion picture since "Lawrence of Arabia." Except you wouldn't catch any hitters watching that one, either -- because they watch it every five days. Every time the most underappreciated starting pitcher in baseball goes out there and air-conditions the ballpark all by himself.