If you squint hard enough right now, you might be able to see some Randy Johnson when No. 41 is on the mound for the Boston Red Sox.
Chris Sale added to a borderline unprecedented run Sunday with a ho-hum six-inning, two-hit, nine-strikeout scoreless effort against the Detroit Tigers. In the process, Sale improved his record to 11-4, lowered his ERA to 2.13 and ran his MLB-leading strikeout total to 197.
“I’ve been saying it, in the last month he’s reminded me a lot of Randy (Johnson),” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters after Sunday’s series win in Detroit. “The thing with Randy, he looked like he was always grinding. With him, it looks effortless now.”
Sale has been hilariously dominant in his last five starts, winning all of those contests and giving up one single run in 33 innings of work.
One run. In 33 innings.
He’s mowed through hitters in that stretch, striking out 57 of the 121 batters he’s faced, which comes out to about 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings. It’s otherworldly stuff, and it’s also better than any stretch Johnson ever had at a similar point in his career.
As for the season on the whole, Sale’s age-29 season is shaping up to be even better than Johnson’s age-29 season (Johnson finished second in Cy Young Award voting; he or Kevin Appier should have won, not Jack McDowell).
21 starts, 2.13 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 207 ERA+, 13.1 K/9, 6.35 K/BB
35 games (34 starts), 3.24 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 10.9 K/9, 3.11 K/BB
In fact, you could argue Sale’s numbers are a lot better.
The Red Sox left-hander’s year-over-year numbers even stack up favorably. Counting this season, Sale has a better ERA+ and FIP than Johnson and is striking out two more batters per nine innings over his last four seasons than Johnson in the same age point of his career. Sale’s numbers are also better when you slide Johnson’s four-year totals to include his age-31 season, 1995, when he was the best pitcher on the planet, going 18-2, with a 2.48 ERA and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
It truly is a Hall of Fame-worthy run Sale is currently enjoying. Right now in his career, Sale is just as good perhaps even better than Johnson, arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. It’s staggering.
The obvious caveat, however, is that Johnson did it for so darn long in his career. That four-year stretch to which we just referred? It was far from the best stretch of his career. We just compared those years because of the age similarity. And it’s always hard to compare eras, especially when Johnson pitched in the steroid era while Sale is doing his work at a time when strikeout numbers are higher than ever. But to that same point, Sale’s also doing it at a time where pitchers are pitching less than ever, and he could make a run at a second straight 300-strikeout season.
If Sale truly is to become the Johnson of his generation, he’ll need to keep this up for, oh, another six or seven seasons. That’s all.
But for now, though, the comparison is more than warranted, as Sale does what Johnson did for just about his entire career: stake his claim as one of the sport’s most dominant pitchers.
Thumbnail photo via Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports Images
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