Chris Sale, Anthony Rizzo earned All-Star spots
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media July 14, 2014 9:57PM
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale works against the Toronto Blue Jays during first inning of a baseball game in Toronto on Saturday, June 28, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese) ORG XMIT: DBC102
Updated: July 17, 2014 9:40PM
White Sox All-Star left-hander Chris Sale mentioned early in the season that he doesn’t pay attention to numbers. In April, Yahoo Sports reported that when Sale was told the numbers love him, he responded, ‘‘I don’t love them back.’’
There’s nothing wrong with that. But the numbers do love him — in a way that screams ‘‘Cy Young candidate’’ far louder than ‘‘Final Vote winner.’’
By traditional numbers, Sale has an 8-1 record with a 2.08 ERA that leads the American League. Modern metrics show a 2.47 FIP (fielding independent pitching) that’s second in the AL to the 2.04 by Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez.
Sale has gotten there by increasing his strikeouts from 9.49 per nine innings last season to 9.66 and by decreasing his walks (1.93-1.52) and home runs allowed (0.97-0.57) per nine innings. His line drives allowed are down to 17.4 percent of all batted balls, which is very good. The AL average hovers around 20 percent, and Sale was at 21.4 percent in 2013 and at 23 percent in 2012.
The drop in line-drive rate offers a partial explanation for why opponents’ batting average on balls in play against him is down to .250 from .289 last season and .294 in 2012.
The FanGraphs.com wins above replacement formula, with FIP as its main component, has Sale at 3.2, tied for sixth in the AL. Hernandez leads with a 5.2 fWAR, followed by Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (4.2), Twins right-hander Phil Hughes (3.5), Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish (3.4) and Indians right-hander Corey Kluber (3.4). Prorating for playing time — Sale missed a month to injury — would put Sale near the top.
At Baseball-Reference.com, where rWAR starts with runs allowed, Hernandez leads at 4.5, with Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle and Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka at 4.2 each and Sale at 4.0.
Even with the missed time, Sale should be no just-made-it All-Star. By FIP and WAR, he’s right with the AL elite.
In the National League Final Vote, the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo won an All-Star roster spot by surpassing another first baseman, early leader Justin Morneau of the Rockies.
The WAR leader among NL Final Vote candidates was Nationals infielder Anthony Rendon (3.2 rWAR, 3.5 fWAR), mostly because of an edge in defense. He was followed by Rizzo (2.5, 2.9), Morneau (1.6, 1.4), Braves outfielder Justin Upton (1.6, 2.3) and Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee (1.4, 2.1).
A comparison of the two first basemen illustrates the issue of park effects. Morneau leads Rizzo in batting average (.312-.275) and RBI (60-49), while Rizzo leads in homers (20-13) and on-base percentage (.381-.345).
By OPS, Rizzo has an .879-.846 lead. Putting it all into offensive context widens the gap considerably. Coors Field continues to be the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, and advanced metrics adjust to reflect that each run is a bigger step toward winning in other parks.
Adjusting OPS for park effects and normalizing to league average gives Rizzo an OPS-plus of 140, which means he has produced at 140 percent of league average. Morneau is at 122 percent.
By the numbers, Rizzo had the better first half.