Just before the clock struck midnight on the 2023 calendar year, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos made a deal to acquire seven time All-Star Chris Sale from the Boston Red Sox. Atlanta was able to bring in that playoff-caliber starter the organization and the fans wanted all offseason. The cost ended up being one of their top prospects in Vaughn Grissom.
By the small chance you are reading this and are unfamiliar with Sale's history allow me to fill you in. Sale has spent 13 seasons in the American League as one of the top pitchers in baseball for both the White Sox and the Red Sox. From 2012-2018 he earned All-Star selections, and finished no lower than sixth in Cy Young voting in each year.
In 2019 the injuries started to plague Sale, with the big blow coming in the form of Tommy John Surgery in March of 2020. Sale finally came back from the UCL injury in late 2021 and pitched just over 40 innings. The next two seasons were effected by a rib injury and pinky fracture, both keeping Sale from getting over the 103 IP mark.
However, once Sale came back last season he showed some signs that motivated the Braves enough to make this deal. Let's take a look at what type of pitcher Sale is today, and what Braves country can expect from him in the 2024 season.
Sale still piles up the swings and misses
Looking at his baseball savant page from 2023, you'll notice Sale is still very good at getting big league hitters out. Last season, he ranked in the 85th percentile for expected batting average (xBA), 92nd percentile in chase%, 88th percentile in K%, 75th percentile in BB%, and 80th percentile in hard-hit%.
His fastball velocity isn't what it used to be, averaging a tick below 94 mph, but his slider is still considered elite. Last season Sale threw his slider 37.5% of the time, and had a 38.9 whiff% on that pitch. In addition, opponents hit just .162 and had an expected slugging of (xSLG) of .310 against his slider. According to savant data, his slider averages 11 inches of break towards a right handed batter and drops 50 inches. League average horizontal movement is 6 inches and 37 inches drop.
As we said earlier, the fastball isn't what it once was, but it's still effective enough to keep big league hitters guessing. In the 102.2 IP in 2023, Sale still piled up enough strikeouts to give him an above-average 29.4 strikeout percentage. In total, Sale had a 3.71 xERA, 3.72 xFIP, and was worth 2.1 fWAR last year. Certainly numbers you'd take from a fourth starter.
In Fangraphs steamer projections for Sale in 2024, they currently see him pitching 141 innings, 3.74 ERA, 3.71 xFIP, K% nearing 28, and being worth 2.8 fWAR. Any team in baseball would sign up for a near 3.0 fWAR season from their fourth starter.
In the end, this trade all comes down to the health of Chris Sale in 2024. And more than anything, is Sale healthy when October rolls around. Alex Anthopoulos stated the Braves were in the market for a pitcher that could start a postseason game for them. Sale currently fits that profile, but it all comes down to him being available late in the season. Should that be the case, I think the Braves will feel good about this trade come seasons end.