What Gives Chaim Bloom Hope About Chris Sale Despite Rough Start

Sale's 11.25 ERA is the worst in all of baseball


Apr 13, 2023

There’s really no way to put a positive spin on Chris Sale’s start to the 2023 Red Sox season.

No starter in baseball has a worse ERA than Sale, who saw the figure balloon to an unsightly 11.25 following a brutal performance Wednesday against Tampa Bay. Sale walked two Rays and allowed a home run in the first inning at Tropicana Field, setting the tone for a brief four-inning outing in which he allowed six runs (five earned) on seven hits while walking a pair and striking out six.

On a night when Boston’s offense came alive, the hole was too big to escape. Somehow, it was just the first start this season the Red Sox have lost with Sale on the mound, but that doesn’t speak to his ineffectiveness thus far.

The big issue has been command. Sale has already walked four in 12 innings. His 5.3 free passes per nine innings would be by far the worst rate of his career if it were to stand all season. But command, or lack thereof, manifests itself in more ways than just walks. Sale already has allowed five home runs. He served up just six dingers in the 11 starts he made over 2021 and 2022 combined.

The batted-ball numbers further speak to the troubles he’s having. Sale’s average exit velocity against is 91.2 mph, a massive increase over his career rate of roughly 88 mph. Opposing hitters are making hard contact nearly 49% of the time; his career rate is just under 36%. His expected wOBA against is in the bottom 8% of the league.

It’s not going well, but Sale and the team aren’t completely ready to give up hope. For starters, they don’t really have a choice. Sale is supposed to be the ace, the anchor of the rotation. So if he’s not right, the team struggles will continue. On a more hopeful or optimistic note, the Red Sox are taking solace that Sale’s velocity and stuff haven’t seen any sort of sharp decline.

“Coming into the season, I think anybody who follows the club, if you had said the stuff, the velocity, the swing and miss would be there to the extent it has been there (over) the three starts,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” on Thursday morning. “I think that’s something we’d all be pretty excited about. At the same time, that’s obviously come with some inconsistency. The command piece hasn’t been there like it has in the past. But the fact that the stuff is there, and you consider everything this guy has been through, that part is encouraging.”

That much is definitely true. Sale’s whiff percentage is back up to 30.1% after sharp declines in 2021 (27.7%) and 2022 (12.5%), and contact in the zone is also way down compared to recent seasons. Bloom also noted Sale’s velocity, especially compared to past early-season performances is up, and that’s true, too. He’s averaging 94 mph on his four-seam fastball, another significant jump over the spring of 2019 or even 2018. That’s not entirely surprising, as this should be Sale at his healthiest in quite some time.

Ultimately, those numbers aren’t the ones that matter, though, especially for a Red Sox team that honestly doesn’t have a ton of margin for error.

“Obviously, nobody is going to work harder than Chris and just make sure he’s executing every inning and every pitch that way he wants to and the way we know that he can, but the stuff has been in a pretty good spot,” Bloom said.

” … I’d much rather us be looking at this point in the season at somebody who shows you what you’re hoping to see in terms of the power that he can generate, the power of the stuff and that we’re waiting for the command to come around (rather) than vice versa.”

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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