White Sox

Sox Drawer: Conversation with the kid

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Sox Drawer: Conversation with the kid

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010
6:57 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs one-hundred nothing. A man, who a very short time ago was just a kid, seemingly closer to Little League than the Major Leagues.

Just dont tell that to Shin-Soo Choo, Johnny Damon, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, and Nick Swisher who are a combined 0-for-10 against him.

His name is Chris Sale, who just three months after being drafted by the White Sox, has become quite the bargain.

Before taking on the Tigers Wednesday night, Chris and I chatted by phone about his improbable ascension through the minor leagues, his immediate impact with the White Sox, how he retired the best hitter in the game on three pitches, and then some.

Chuck Garfien: Hey Chris. So I was doing some research for this interview, and came across the year you were born, and immediately felt very old. For those reading this, what year were you born?

Chris Sale: 1989.

Garfien: Which is the year I graduated from high school.

Sale: Oh wow.

Garfien: Thanks. So, do you consider music from the 1980s to be oldies?

Sale: Well, I consider my parents to be old. They were into music from the 50s and 60s.

Garfien: But you see thats the problem. Im almost old enough to be one of your parents. Dont worry. Ill get over it. But can you clear up a rumor for me? Is it true that Scott Linebrink is your grandfather?

Sale: (Laughs) No. But we gave him a hard time the other day. We call him Papa Bear, because whenever we walk out to the bullpen before the game, he makes sure were all together and gets us all corralled so we go out there as a group.

Garfien: And he does kind of look like Papa Bear, too.

Sale: No comment on that.
Garfien: I want to go back to when you started playing baseball. When did you realize that you could throw the ball harder than everybody else your age?

Sale: Honestly, I didnt even start throwing too hard until I got to college. As a senior in high school I was throwing about 84-89. Every once in a while Id hit 90. But it wasnt until probably the fall of my sophomore year that I started throwing into the low 90s and every once in a while there would be a 94 or 95.

Garfien: So what happened? What changed for you that allowed you to throw harder than you had before?
Sale: Probably a combination of everything. Working out everyday, getting my arm stronger by throwing everyday, and eating better, getting some better food in my body.

Garfien: But looking at you, it appears that you dont eat anything!

Sale: Yeah, I get that a lot. Fans in the stands tell me that I need to eat more. Theyre already saying, Do they feed you in Chicago?

Garfien: Is it apart of your DNA to be really thin? I can relate to that. I was an anemic twig up until I was about 22 years old.

Sale: Oh yeah. My grandfathers nickname is Streamline because he was a swimmer and he looked like a long skinny line swimming in the water. People to this day still call him that. There are people who dont even know his real name. They just call him Streamline. My dad had a size 28 or 30 waist when he got married. Everyone in my family was really skinny when they were growing up, so Im not surprised.
Garfien: When the White Sox drafted you, how realistic was it that you could get to the majors this quickly?
Sale: I didnt really think about it too much. When I signed early on, they told me I would have the opportunity to move up quickly. I was looking forward to playing and getting in the innings, and to come back next spring with a chance to move up. I was pitching well, and then I got the call in August that I was coming up with the team, and it was unbelievable. A dream come true. Imagine sitting back six or seven months ago, and suddenly being in this position. Its the greatest thing thats happened to me as far as baseball.
Garfien: So you pitch 10 innings in the minor leagues, you come up here, you obviously have confidence in your ability, but was there a part of you that was saying, Okay, can I really do this so quickly in my career?

Sale: Oh yeah. I certainly didnt start acting like I was calm, cool, and collected about it. I was excited, but at the same time I was really nervous. I was facing college hitters, then I was facing minor league guys, and now Im pitching against guys who I watched on TV growing up, and played on their teams in video games just because they hit the ball so far. I was definitely a little nervous coming up, but things have worked out well, and Im getting more comfortable on the mound everytime.

Garfien: Ozzie Guillen says that what he likes about you is that you have guts. Have you been like that with everything in life, or does it just manifest itself when youre on the pitching mound?

Sale: When I take the mound, I just like to be intense. I was just talking about it with Linebrink yesterday, to just go out there and be focused on what Im doing and not taking off a pitch. Every pitch being 100 percent confident, and be locked in for every single pitch.

Garfien: A couple weeks ago against the Twins, you struck out Joe Mauer on three straight sliders. What was your mind-set there? Take me back to that moment. What was going on in your head, facing Mauer, one of the best hitters in the game, and youre saying, Im going to get him out with three straight sliders."

Sale: A.J. Pierzynski was the one calling the pitches. Obviously I had never faced Mauer. I just didnt want him to get a chance to open up the game, so we were just being careful with him. It ended up being a good situation for us. After I threw the first one, I just wanted to get it in there for a strike. The second one, I wanted to make him chase it a little bit. And the third one, A.J. called for a third slider in a row, and I was like, Alright, whatever. Here it goes. And I just wanted to throw it towards the strike zone and let it break down, and it ended up working out well.

Garfien: Youre a major league pitcher now, but youre also a human being. When you walked off the mound after doing that, was there a part of you that said, Did I just do that?
Sale: Oh yeah. Theres a part of me still saying that.

Garfien: Your first major league win came on Monday against the Tigers. You threw 2 23 scoreless, hitless innings in relief. What was that feeling like for you, and was there a beer shower involved?

Sale: Yes, there was definitely a beer shower. It was awesome being able to go out there and get that first win. Its unbelievable.
Garfien: Are you liking being a reliever? Or is starting pitching you really want to do?

Sale: It really doesnt matter to me. I just want to have the opportunity to pitch. Whatever they want to do. If they end up changing their mind and say, We want to keep you in the pen, Ill be fine with that. If they tell me in the spring that they want me to come back and be a starter, thats fine too. Whatever they think. Thats what Im going to do.

Garfien: And finally, is there a funny story or moment thats happened in your major league career thats going to stay with you for a very long time. It could be on the field, off the field, that you feel like sharing.
Sale: This whole experience! Are you kidding me? Its been surreal. Obviously, being drafted in the first round. It was unbelievable. Signing early, and playing, and being in a pennant race at 21-years-old, and moving through the system so quick, I couldnt have asked for anything better. I still come to the park everyday and its just like, Wow, this is awesome. This is what Ive worked for my whole life, to get this opportunity, and Im just trying to make the best of it.
Garfien: Well, you certainly have. Good luck tonight.
Sale: Thanks.

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.