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Jim Furtado
Founder & Publisher
Editor - Baseball Primer


Strikeouts Newsbeat

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Poz: Switch Your Style Up

Just one game (perhaps one inning) to shrug off ... or a sign of what’s to come?

The results have been striking. Batters are not swinging and missing Sale’s pitches in the same way — his swing and miss rate is all the way down to 9.2 percent. Hitters are not chasing his pitches out of the strike zone like they did. And even when they do chase, they’re connecting a lot more often. For the first time in his career, Sale is not striking out at least one batter per inning.

And the overall result? Well, for the first nine starts of the year, Sale was impossibly efficient. He started the year 9-0, completed three of those games (he threw a 99-pitch complete game) and posted a 1.58 ERA. The league was hitting .163 against him.

In the 10th game against Cleveland, though, he only lasted 3 1/3 innings and gave up seven hits and six earned runs. Cleveland went 7-for-17, a .411 average if you are scoring at home.

Of course, every pitcher will have a bad game now and again, and that might be the only thing that happened Tuesday. But here’s the question: Was Sale’s bad game INEVITABLE? Here’s what I mean: Sale’s shift in pitching tactics is based on a very simple premise. He wants hitters to make more contact. Sure, he still wants to get some strikeouts (he has 69 Ks in 71 2/3 innings, so we’re not talking about slow-pitch softball here) but strikeouts are hard on the arm, they require a lot of pitches, they are not always cost-effective. Sale wants, instead, for hitters to make light contact — ground balls, pop-ups, soft line drives — and for the White Sox defense to get the outs.

For nine games, this worked in a historic way. Nine games in, opponents’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .197. How amazing is that? No pitcher in the record books has EVER held hitters a sub-.200 BABIP for a full season. When hitters put the ball in play, they will hit around .300; it has been that way for 20-plus years. One of the more prominent theories in baseball right now is that starting pitchers, no matter how good, do not have much control over BABIP.  After bat meets ball, this theory goes, it is up to the team’s defense and the hands of destiny to determine whether it becomes a hit.



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