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« Found: Neftali Feliz's Changeup | Main | Ivan Nova's Curveball »

Chris Sale's First Start

Yu Darvish wasn't the only guy making his first MLB start last night. After two dominant years in the bullpen, White Sox power arm Chris Sale is shifting to the rotation 2012. The 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft was a starter at Florida Gulf Coast University, and he impressed while navigating the lineup multiple times against the Indians. Sale struck out five and walked two in 6.2 innings, allowing just three hits and one run. Here are some notes on Sale's first start.

- Not surprisingly, Sale's fastball sat a few ticks slower as a starter (92.3 mph average) than as a reliever (95.1 mph). The 6-5, 180 pound lefty opened the game sitting around 93 mph, reached back for more in the third inning and tailed off in the fifth, but he regained some oomph after that:

Sale's fastball velocity by inning

1st: 92.8

2nd: 92.5

3rd: 94.2

4th: 91.6

5th: 89.9

6th: 91.9

7th: 92.2

Sale's fastball didn't get a bunch of whiffs (three in 24 swings), but he succeeded by keeping the pitch low in the strike zone:

Sale's fastball location vs. Indians, 4/9/12

Cleveland's hitters went 2-for-13 against Sale's fastball, grounding out seven times.

- Sale's slider was also down a couple of mph out of the rotation (80.2 mph yesterday, 82.3 mph as a reliever). His breaking ball was a big bat-misser out of the 'pen (49% miss rate), and the Indians came up empty four times out of 10 cuts yesterday.

- Facing a lineup featuring five right-handed hitters and two switch-hitters, Sale still went much more heavily to his slider (31%) than his changeup (12%). His change (yellow in the graph below) was about eight mph slower than his fastball (orange-red) and was pretty similar to his heater in terms of horizontal and vertical movement:

Release velocity and movement of Sale's pitches vs. Indians, 4/9/12Sale rarely used his changeup out of the bullpen (seven percent of his pitches). The development of that pitch could be key to his performance against righties, considering that the slider is typically much more effective against same-handed hitters (lefty batters slugged .292 on sliders from lefty pitchers in 2011) than opposite-handed hitters (righties slugged .346 versus lefty sliders). For what it's worth, Sale's slider was deadly against both righties (.148 slugging percentage) and lefties (.133 slugging percentage) as a reliever.

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