Baseball Bits #4: Setting The Expectations for Chris Sale in 2017

 

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Hope you’re excited baseball fans because baseball is back in season! That means it’s time for another Baseball Bits. In the off-season, the Red Sox acquired Chris Sale from the White Sox. On Chicago, he was an ace, finishing as a Top 10 AL pitcher in ERA for the last 3 years. But historically, pitchers with a top 10 ERA in their league often don’t repeat their success the following season if they’re joining a new team. I did some research to prove it. So, don’t think Chris Sale will be the same in 2017 as he was the last two years.
What are the expectations for Chris Sale in 2017? That’s what I did the research for. What I looked for were top 10 pitchers by ERA in their league that changed teams the following year. What I wanted to find out is how many of them had an ERA under 3.50 on their new team. Pitchers that were on my spreadsheet were filtered by the following guidelines:

  1. The pitcher must be in the top 10 or tied for top 10 in ERA that year.
  2. They must have been on a different team the year after they made the leaderboard.
  3. They must have stayed on the team they join for the whole season.
  4. The team they joined must have been joined in the off-season after they made the leaderboard.
  5. The team they joined cannot be a team they left earlier in the year when they made the leaderboard.

I have used this research to set expectations for Chris Sale in 2017, and compare his expectations to the rest of the rotation. I have also projected stats for Sale compared to the rest of the rotation based on the research. Pitchers with ERAs under 3.50 on their new team are highlighted below.
The Research since 1960
AL


NL

The Baseball Bits

  • 95 Pitchers who were in the top 10 in ERA for the AL or NL switched teams the following year.  Of those 95, only 17 (13 AL, 4 NL), improved their ERA. That’s 17.9%!  1 of them did not have an ERA under 3.50 in either year (Tim Hudson, 3.53 Year 1, 3.52 Year 2).
    • Only 37 out of the 95 pitchers (20 AL, 17 NL), just 38.9% had an ERA under 3.50 in their first year with the new team!
    • Only 16 (8 in each league) of these 37 had an ERA under 3.00 (43.2%)
  • Pitchers that changed teams but not leagues actually performed better than those that switched leagues
    • 23 out of 47 pitchers that changed teams but not leagues that were in the top 10 ERA had ERAs under 3.50 in their first year with their new team. That is 48.9%
    • Only 14 of the 48 pitchers that changed teams AND changed leagues that were in the top 10 ERA had ERAs under 3.50 in their first year with their new team. That is 29.1%
  • John Lackey was the last pitcher to have an ERA under 3.50 on a new team, with his 3.35 mark in 2016. Max Scherzer in 2015 was the last from the AL in their Top 10 year. Scherzer changed leagues but Lackey stayed in the same division.
  • Not many Top 10 pitchers League-wide switched teams back in the early 1900s. Between 1900 and 1960, only 9 top 10 pitchers by League ERA overall switched teams the following season.
    • However, 6 of those 9 had an ERA under 3.50 on their new team.
  • The Red Sox have signed/acquired 7 pitchers (David Price, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, John Burkett, Danny Darwin, Zane Smith, Dennis Eckersley) that were Top 10 in ERA in their league the previous year. Of those 7, only Martinez (2.89), Eckersley (2.99) and Schilling (3.26) have had an ERA under 3.50 in their 1st year. The other 4 averaged a 4.82 ERA in their first years in Boston, Price (3.99), Burkett (4.53), Smith (5.61) and Darwin (5.16).  Only Eckersley improved his ERA.  Sale is the 8th acquisition but we don’t know how he’ll do.
  • 6 active pitchers have had an ERA under 3.50 on a new team after their Top 10 year. However, the lowest ERA on their new team by an active pitcher is 3.34 (Jon Lester in 2015).
  • Only one pitcher has ever changed teams after a Top 10 year and had an ERA under 3.50 more than once in their career, Kevin Brown.
  • Pitchers that changed teams but not leagues actually performed better than those that switched leagues

The Verdict

Repeating a top 10 ERA year on a new team does not happen very often. It’s hard to do. A lot of big name players have done it, but I’d say there’s probably one Hall-of-Famer on the spreadsheet that hasn’t done it for every Hall-of-Famer that has.  Is Chris Sale a future Hall-of-Famer and is he as good as the Hall-of-Famers that have succeeded in year one with their new team?  We’ll find out this season. What I can tell you is that I’ve found a reasonable expectation level for Chris Sale based on the research. Typically, pitchers on the spreadsheet that didn’t do well are at least somewhat better in their second year with their new team.  I hope David Price follows that trend despite his elbow issues that will keep him out early in the year.  Sale staying in the same league might help his success this year not hurt it as one would expect facing new players. But, interleague play, better defense, and changing divisions might also be a factor that my research did not include.

Okay, so here are my expectations & predictions for Chris Sale in 2017 based on the research. I’ve compared the predictions to my thoughts on the rest of the Red Sox rotation

For Chris Sale, I’m not expecting him to have an ERA under 3.00. He is pumped to be on the Red Sox though, so I’m expecting a winning record and an ERA between 3.00 and 3.75. He won’t be as good as he was in his best seasons in Chicago but he will be a big help to the Red Sox rotation. The rotation actually looks really good this year. Now here’s my prediction for Sale. Below I’ve also included stat predictions for Price, Porcello, E-Rod, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright.

  • Chris Sale: 18-8, 3.57 ERA, 216 K, 1.26 WHIP
  •  David Price: 11-5, 3.66 ERA, 148 K, 1.34 WHIP
  • Rick Porcello: 19-9, 3.28 ERA, 174 K, 1.17 WHIP
  • Eduardo Rodriguez: 16-9, 3.42 ERA, 151 K, 1.32 WHIP
  • Drew Pomeranz: 14-9, 4.04 ERA, 143 K, 1.36 WHIP
  • Steven Wright: 12-6, 3.64 ERA, 117 K, 1.28 WHIP

I expect all the Red Sox pitchers to have decent years, with Sale, E-Rod and Porcello among the best. Price would be up there too, but his injury is holding him back a little bit.

Baseball is back! Get excited, Sale makes his debut today!  And get excited for more post from me!

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