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White Sox Thu Jun 14 2012

Chris Sale Has Limitless Potential This Season

Much ado has been made about young Sox starter Chris Sale reaching an innings limit for the 2012 season.

What should the Sox do to prevent Sale from racking up a massive amount of innings pitched? Have him skip a couple starts the rest of the way? Move him to the bullpen or into the closer role? Have him pitch up to his innings limit, then shut him down? How to handle the 23-year old lefty fireballer?

For a first place team that definitely could win the division, none of those options are desirable. Sale has been the Sox's best pitcher by almost any metric; not using him is a total detriment to the team. The bullpen/closer role is the best potential outcome, but still, Sale has been shifted around all season, and how would he adapt to the role on the fly?

I guess a better question is, Do the Sox need to put Sale on an innings limit in the first place?

We are in an age of baseball when the number one goal of an organization is to protect its young arms. No baseball team wants to handle their future ace the way the Cubs did with Mark Prior. Even the Nationals felt great shame when Stephen Strasburg needed Tommy John Surgery in 2010.

Naturally, the Sox should handle Sale with some care. Already, they didn't throw him to the wolves like the Rangers did in 1973 when they promoted David Clyde to the bigs only a few weeks after his high school graduation. So, there's that.

Common sense comes into play, too. If the Sox determine that Sale has flawed mechanics or a delivery that may cause arm problems, fix that immediately. Also, don't have Sale go out and throw a 135-pitch game. Set a workable pitch count. And at this stage of his career, Sale shouldn't start on short rest. Makes sense.

But what about the innings limit?

Sale is on pace for around 180-190 innings this season, which would (obviously) be a career high - he threw 71 innings in relief for the Sox last year, and 138 2/3 between college, the minors, and majors in 2010.

Here's the thing, though: Every arm is different. Prior and Strasburg cannot be thought of as typical. Some young arms are capped, but some are not.

At age 23, David Price was placed on a strict innings limit in 2009 and only pitched 128.1 frames. At the same age, though, Felix Hernandez tossed 238.2 innings. This, actually, was his fourth straight year of over 190 innings pitched. Other 23-year olds who pitched over 180 innings? Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Mat Latos and Yovani Gallardo.

Teams go on a case-by-case basis with their pitchers, since there is no set-in-stone rule that says capping innings is the right way to go. With that, I don't think the Sox should set a firm limit. Naturally, if an issue arises, this strategy may change. But to shut down or alter the work of a healthy pitcher who is thriving? I don't see much sense in that.

The Sox agree. Jake Peavy, who knows a thing or two about being injured, has advised Sale to listen to his body and act accordingly. Manager Robin Ventura came on The Score and said that there is no cap, and that he wants Sale to have that "finish the game" mentality the rest of the season.

Let Sale pitch. Let him do what he's been doing for the rest of the year. Chris Sale has just been way too good for anyone to stop him.

 

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