CHICAGO -- Chris Sale's average fastball velocity through six 2016 starts has dropped from 94.5 mph to 92.3 in comparison to 2015, per Fangraphs. But this dip is by design, not a cause for concern.Much has been made of the White Sox ace's desire for early contact on the heels
CHICAGO -- Chris Sale's average fastball velocity through six 2016 starts has dropped from 94.5 mph to 92.3 in comparison to 2015, per Fangraphs. But this dip is by design, not a cause for concern.
Much has been made of the White Sox ace's desire for early contact on the heels of his single-season franchise-record of 274 strikeouts. That velocity change factors into this plan, but it's also a sign of a more mature Sale on the mound, valuing every pitch he throws.
"That's probably the biggest part of my change, is not throwing every single pitch as hard as I can every inning, every out. I waste a lot of pitches doing that," Sale told MLB.com prior to his Saturday start against the Twins. "I've noticed being able to throw strikes down in the zone where last year my fastball was just getting crushed.
"You can throw 96, but if it's up, they are going to hit it. I'm starting to realize it's more location than it is speed and velocity.
"There are still times to overpower guys," Sale said. "But when you are going through a game, there's no reason to throw a 0-0 pitch as hard as you can just because you gave up a hit before that. Now you are 1-0 and now you are more mad than you were before, so you rear back and try to throw one harder."
Strikeouts didn't necessarily drive up 2015 pitch counts for Sale, who threw 208 2/3 innings, never threw more than 125 pitches and topped 120 pitches twice in games. He went at least seven innings in 11 of his last 16 starts and the common reason for an early exit centered more on the infrequent occasions he got hit.
But the individual Sale target in '16 is innings and not much more, which means seven is a solid total, but eight or nine is even better.
"[White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper] has a saying: If you are out there long enough, good things are going to happen," Sale said. "I don't care about strikeouts, what my ERA looks like.
"Innings for a starting pitcher, and starts, are the most important things because if you are getting the innings and out there every time, good things will happen. Everything else will fall into place."
Sale recounted a recent talk with Cooper about how one wasted pitch can cause a pitcher 15 more pitches, two pitches can cost two innings and three to five pitches could change the game's landscape. So, concentration and control have been as important as early contact during Sale's 6-0 start.
"I'm throwing less anger pitches and more focused at what I'm doing and not getting lackadaisical with any pitches because I know how important they are," Sale said. "My body reacts a lot better to it, too. You are out there throwing 108 pitches and 106 of them are full bore, you are going to feel it the next day.
"When you can keep guys fresh in the bullpen and keep guys out as long as they can, you are doing yourself and your team justice. I'm not a big fan of other people doing my job for me."
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.