Chris Sale is on more than just a good run. The best pitcher in the American League has actually gotten better.
Sale’s ability to light up the radar gun has been noticeable. He hit triple digits once again in the All-Star Game — now a regular occurrence, although he maxed out at just 99 mph on Sunday. After his third straight Midsummer Classic start, Sale attributed the recent boost in velocity to multiple things, including the Red Sox strength and conditioning staff. As pitching coach Dana LeVangie has said at different points, Sale came into this year with a plan, and is executing it wonderfully.
What stands out beyond the velocity is the slider.
Per Statcast, 46 of the 99 pitches Sale threw on Sunday vs. the Tigers were sliders. He’s using his breaking ball more this year than he ever has in his career as a starter, for good reason.
The big jump in usage came from 2016 to 2017. But in movement? This season has been tremendous. He’s getting about eight inches of movement on the pitch, up from about 5 inches in 2016 and 5 1/2 inches in 2017, per BrooksBaseball.net's measurements:
That was heading into Sunday. Peek at the Statcast numbers over at BaseballSavant.com, and what do you find: more and more spin on the slider as the years have gone on.
The slider in 2015: an average of 2,206 RPM. The next year, 2,251. In 2017, it was 2,395. This year, 2,478.
In the seven-start stretch leading into Sunday’s start, the number was 2,525.
How? The Red Sox think part of it has to do with how square Sale’s hand is at the point of release. A better spin axis means more of the spin can translate to movement. Pitchers very often don't maximize their spin.
Sale's vertical release point is also lower overall in 2018: not to a huge degree, but as low it’s been basically since 2013. There's a belief that finishing his delivery lower, towards his knee rather than his hip, may be helping the extra movement.
At the end of the day, Sale is a phenomenal athlete who thrives on rest that the Sox are fostering and an intense routine. He was already awesome, and with some help from the Red Sox coaches and staff, he’s only making himself better as he marches toward his first Cy Young award.