Red Sox: Sale should be in the conversation for best pitcher in the league

Several pitchers have made their case to be considered the best in the league. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer stand above the rest, based on their track records and stellar 2017 campaigns. But an argument could be made for the Red Sox’s Chris Sale.

Major League Baseball fans have seen a multitude of dominant pitching performances this season. Several pitchers are piecing together tremendous seasons, some more surprising than others – I’m talking to you, Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas.

But there are a handful of hurlers that have been a notch above the rest. And that’s been the case for the past few seasons.

Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have again made cases to be deemed the best pitcher in the league, although Kershaw has struggled limiting home runs so far. Dallas Keuchel could also be in the conversation, but he’s been sidelined for the past month with a neck injury.

It’s time to consider Chris Sale, the overpowering lanky southpaw, in the discussion.

The former White Sox pitcher already made history in his first year in Boston, tying Pedro Martinez‘s record of most consecutive starts with 10 or more strikeouts once again. He already tied the record with eight consecutive outings of this caliber in 2015 for Chicago.

Sale leads the league in strikeouts and owns a better K/BB ratio than both Kershaw and Scherzer, his two biggest competitors for the title of best pitcher. He’s also tied with Scherzer for the most quality starts with 13 on the year.

The case against Kershaw

Both southpaws dazzle nearly every time they are on the bump. Kershaw boasts a better ERA, despite allowing more than twice as many bombs as Sale.

Kershaw has more wins than Sale and has been more efficient, throwing fewer pitches per inning on average. But Kershaw hasn’t struck out as many hitters as he usually does, compiling 117 strikeouts so far.

He also hasn’t worked deep into games, pitching at least eight innings in just two of his outings. Sale has gone eight or more innings five times this year. Sure, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts is always quick to pull the trigger on his bullpen, but he typically has more faith in his ace than his other starters.

Lastly, Sale owns better numbers in opponents’ batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage – yes, the differences are minute, but still noteworthy!

The case against Scherzer 

It is much more difficult arguing against a guy who was on the cusp of throwing his third career no-hitter this week and a guy who leads the group of three in nearly every major pitching category, including ERA and WHIP. But there is still a case to be made; it just may not be as air-tight as the one against Kershaw.

Sale owns a slightly better defensive-independent ERA than Scherzer, even though his BABIP is considerably higher than Scherzer’s. He’s walked fewer batters and allowed fewer homers, despite allowing more earned runs.

The opponents both pitchers have faced are pretty even when taking a gander at their offensive stats. But Scherzer has had the luxury of facing NL East squads in half of his outings – ahem, Philadelphia – and has also had starts against the dreadful offenses from San Diego, San Francisco and St. Louis.

Sale has faced off against the Phillies and the scuffling Pirates and Royals, but he’s also dealt with formidable offenses like the Yankees and Rays.

Okay, obviously Scherzer has pitched outstanding recently and is on a major streak of his own – he’s whiffed more than 10 hitters in six consecutive outings. He’s also received less run support than Sale by a considerable amount.

Kershaw’s track record is enough evidence to claim that he is still the most dominant pitcher in the game, if not the greatest of all time.

An argument can be made for both Kershaw and Scherzer to be deemed the best pitcher in the league. But that doesn’t mean Sale should be out of the conversation.

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