Chris Sale didn’t need another complete game to make his case for the American League Cy Young Award, but it certainly didn’t hurt. After taking a perfect game through 4 ⅓ during Friday’s 7-1 win over the Royals, Sale lost the bid on a Salvador Perez ground ball, then carried the White Sox through another 4 ⅔ frames for his sixth complete game of the season.
Even without the perfect game, Sale was outstanding. He tossed 8 ⅓ innings before pitching to a batter on a full count and racked up 10 strikeouts in his fourth double-strikeout outing of 2016. In the fifth inning, the Royals broke through on a two-RBI single by Hunter Dozier that hinged on a throwing error from shortstop Tyler Saladino, then knocked in another two runs in the sixth on a Whit Merrifield triple and Kendrys Morales line drive. In every other inning, however, none of the Royals’ batters made it past first base, and Sale escaped with his 3.03 ERA largely intact.
Of the myriad ways to dissect a pitcher’s case for Cy Young, Sale has distinguished himself most notably in traditional metrics. His ERA is second-best among American League starters, and his 3.43 FIP ranks fourth alongside White Sox teammate Jose Quintana. Chicago’s ace has proven one of the most durable pitchers in the AL, pitching 201 ⅔ innings heading into Friday and ranking just behind David Price for the second-most innings in the league.
Sale hit his stride during the second half of the year, where he’s currently the second-most valuable pitcher behind 20-game winner Rick Porcello, touting 2.2 fWAR since the All-Star break and a sub-3.00 ERA and FIP of 2.47 and 2.96, respectively.
Despite high marks, the left-hander is still trailing frontrunners like Justin Verlander and Masahiro Tanaka in peripherals like K/9 and BB/9. In the second half, Sale improved his K/9 from 8.86 to 9.63 and watched his walk rate slip from 1.87 in the first half to 2.00 in the second half. Overall, he’s walking about as many batters per nine innings as he did during his 6.2 fWAR, Cy Young-contending 2015 season, but his strikeouts have plummeted from last year’s career-best mark of 11.82 K/9 — a number that could be difficult to rectify over his last three starts of 2016.
Of course, if Sale can pull off another three wins by the end of the year, coming in just behind Rick Porcello and J.A. Happ with a 19-8 record, if he can shave off a few points from his ERA and boost his fWAR over 5.0 wins, if the White Sox can dig around in their pockets for more than 4.17 runs of support every time their ace takes the mound, maybe he can narrow the gap between third-best in the American League and first. It’s a lot of pressure to place on the last two weeks of what has otherwise been a fairly mediocre season for the White Sox, but if Friday’s gem was any indication, Sale should be up to the challenge.