Breaking down Chris Sale’s uneasy start against the Yankees

Nick Friar
April 16, 2019 - 9:25 pm

Chris Sale found a new way to torture Red Sox fans in Tuesday’s 8-0 loss. Not only was his line subpar — four runs on seven hits over five innings — but also he managed to give Boston a glimmer of hope in the process. (For a complete recap, click here.)

His fastball was humming all game. On pitch 16, he hit 95.8 miles per hour. Sale did so again on pitch 17. Four pitches later, he hit 96.8 and eventually topped out at 97.5 three times.

Sale’s slider was also much better. Of his 12 swing-and-misses, nine were via his slider (two changeups and one fastball). Furthermore, he was able to locate it where Sandy Leon was setting up at a notable frequency. Sale’s back-foot slider that has long been absent finally showed its face again, embarrassing Gleyber Torres with it, among others.

The changeup, on the other hand, was by no means consistent. Although, Clint Frazier was probably a fan of it (that’s what he hit the home run on). But Sale’s changeup is his third pitch. It’s not going to make or break an outing, especially with his slider being regarded as the best in baseball.

The problem was, once again, his fastball.

Sure, Sale proved he hasn’t deteriorated into Jamie Moyer or some other lobbing lefty. He was cooking with gas against the Yankees.

But they still hit him. Hard, to boot.

Sale’s problem was one he has had all season long and been overshadowed by his velocity. His location. Specifically, Sale keeps making his mistakes in the same area.

He continuously misses arm-side, in reference to his target. (Arm-side in Sale’s case is inside to left-handed hitters, away from righties.) In a conversation with Tim Hyers about general hitting approach, the Red Sox hitting coach told WEEI.com “most of your best hitters want the ball away from them. You look at where they do damage, they want it away from them; they don’t want to get tied up. They want to be able to get freedom.”

Based on Hyers’ theory, Sale is pitching to every righty’s advantage. DJ LeMahieu’s RBI-single was a fastball up and out that went 100 miles per hour off the bat — a miss up and arm-side. Luke Voit’s 110.1 mile-per-hour RBI single, you guessed it, a miss arm-side. (For what it’s worth, Frazier’s home run, although on a changeup, was another pitch where he missed up and arm-side.)

While Sale’s velocity is a sign he is healthy, there still may be something wrong with him mechanically. At spring training, he told WEEI.com he can fall into a habit where his hand is in the wrong position, creating issues with the control and movement of his off-speed pitches. (For example, his slider moves more horizontally and has less depth, similar.) There’s a chance that could be the case now.

And whether it’s hand placement or something else, it has taken far too long for the Red Sox to figure out the problem.

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