Tomase: Can Sox fans expect to see some version of Sale in 2021?


* Throughout this month, we'll put a member of the 2020 Red Sox and one of their most notable statistics under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead. Today's installment: Chris Sale.

18 months

The Red Sox have high hopes for ace left-hander Chris Sale in 2021, but are they realistic? An examination of pitchers his age to undergo Tommy John surgery gives us the dreaded good news/bad news scenario.

The good news is there's no reason Sale can't be an All-Star again. The bad news is it almost definitely won't happen until 2022. Between 1974 and 2018, 67 pitchers between the ages of 30 and 32 have had Tommy John surgery. Sale, we should note, had the surgery on his 31st birthday. Of those 67, 56 returned to the big leagues in an average of a year and a half. They range from Tommy John himself, who threw another 14 seasons, to people like former Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen and old friend Daisuke Matsuzaka, who most definitely did not.

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If you're looking for positives, the three that jump out are Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, former A's All-Star Tim Hudson, and our very own John Lackey, who were Cy Young contenders and/or World Series winners within a year of their respective returns. Red Sox fans can only hope Sale joins them. Just don't be disappointed if doesn't happen right away.

What went right for Sale in 2020

About the best that can be said about Sale's 2020 is that he didn't put off surgery in the hopes of pitching in July or August, which absolutely would've ended his 2021 season, too.


What went wrong for Sale in 2020

Tommy John. Sale arrived at spring training hoping to pitch through the discomfort that had ended his 2019 in August, but after throwing a handful of times, he shut it down. The massive second guess which many voiced as a first guess was waiting to undergo surgery in the first place.

Had Sale gone under the knife in September, he'd be on track to enter spring training fully healed.

Sale of the Century

Chris Sale's winning percentage over his first two Red Sox seasons (29-12).
Chris Sale's winning percentage during his last Red Sox season (6-11 in 2019).

Early outlook for 2021

Patience is a necessity. Nearly half of the 56 pitchers described above returned from Tommy John in 15 months, which would put Sale's debut at or around July 1. If he needs 18 months, then his 2021 is shot.

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There may not need to be much reason to rush, if the Red Sox go the bargain-basement route again in the rotation. While it would be great to see Sale contribute in 2021, the more likely scenario is and always has been a return to form in 2022.