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Sox’ Chris Sale a deserving All-Star, even with 5-8 record

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Updated: August 10, 2013 6:28AM

Chris Sale has a 5-8 record this season. He also has been one of the most
dominant pitchers in baseball, easily worthy of his spot on the American League All-Star team.

As White Sox fans know all too well, Sale has been a victim of non-support. He has kept runs off the board with a 2.78 ERA that’s tied with the Athletics’ Bartolo Colon for fourth in the AL. When his ERA is adjusted for ballpark and normalized on a scale where 100 is average, he leads the league with a 158 ERA-plus, four points ahead of the Red Sox’ John Lackey.

But Sale’s teammates have been as bad at putting runs on the
board as he has been good at keeping them off. The Sox have backed Sale with only 2.56 runs per start, by far the weakest run support in AL. The next-worst non-support victim has been the Astros’ Bud Norris, and he has been getting nearly a half-run more at 3.00 per start.

Even the National League pitchers with the weakest support are getting more runs than Sale, despite being in a league without the designated hitter. The Pirates’ A.J. Burnett has received the fewest runs to work with in the
NL, but he still is getting nearly a third of a run more than Sale at 2.87 per start.

Sale and other Sox pitchers have had to work with a defense that ranks near the bottom of the AL. A team of average fielders would have zero runs saved, a metric devised by Baseball Info Solutions and listed at The Sox rank 13th in the AL with minus-34 runs saved, indicating a below-average defense that has
put upward pressure on their pitchers’ ERAs.

This brings us to fielding-independent pitching, a method of evaluating a pitcher’s performance while filtering out the effects of fielding. Devised by Tom Tango, FIP focuses on events that are purely batter against pitcher — home runs, walks and strikeouts — while ignoring balls in play.

FIP adds 13 times homers to three times walks, then subtracts two times strikeouts. The result then is divided by innings pitched. then adds a constant based on subtracting league-average FIP from league-average ERA. That makes the
final stat easy to understand by putting it on a scale similar to ERA.

Sale’s 2.80 FIP ranks fourth among AL starters. Then again, he ranks among the AL’s best everywhere you look — third with 0.96 walks plus hits per inning pitched, third with 9.77 strikeouts per nine innings and fourth with 4.92 strikeouts per walk.

ERA is a better indicator of future victories than won-lost record, and metrics such as FIP are even better indicators than ERA. Pitchers who are best at keeping the other guys from scoring usually are the most consistent winners.

Bottom line: Sale has a well-earned spot on the AL All-Star team, but it’s going to take better support from his teammates to get the won-lost record he deserves.

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