CSNChicago.com is taking a look back at what turned out to be a memorable year in the Windy City, by counting down the 13 biggest Chicago sports stories of 2013. Check back each day to see what other storylines were good enough to make the list.
After last season, Chris Sale has to be a firm believer in the theory that a pitcher’s wins and losses aren’t a fair measure of success.
Though most everyone would agree Sale was better in 2013 than when he won 17 games in 2012, some of the numbers suggest differently. The White Sox two-time All-Star pitcher, who finished fifth in the American League Cy Young vote, had nearly the same ERA as a season earlier but went from a winning record (17-8) in 2012 to a sub-.500 mark at 11-14.
While some numbers show a decline, the decision makers on 35th Street know better. They understand Sale was just another victim, perhaps the biggest, of the fourth-worst season in franchise history. Had the White Sox been closer to .500 instead of losing 99 games, Sale would have likely received far more recognition for his efforts.
“He had a sensational year,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said last month. “It’s unfortunate he wasn’t among the finalists for the Cy Young. It probably had a lot more to do with the run support and his win total than his individual performance.”
Look no further than run support as the cause for Sale’s 14 losses.
He received 3.20 runs per start, which ranked as the fifth fewest out of 81 qualified starters in 2013, according to ESPN.com.
Perhaps no start better defined Sale’s poor luck than his June 14th effort at Houston. Sale struck out 14 over eight innings and allowed only six hits and a walk. But a pair of Alexei Ramirez errors did Sale in and instead of a win he took the loss after he was saddled with a pair of unearned runs in a 2-1 loss.
Eleven days later, Sale struck out 13 more but earned a no-decision in a game the White Sox would eventually win. He left with the lead but Sale saw his decision evaporate when second baseman Gordon Beckham and third baseman Conor Gillaspie collided, allowing a ninth-inning infield pop up to drop in to score the tying run.
Despite his poor individual results, Sale refused to get frustrated. Following another blown save on Sept. 21, when the White Sox lost at Detroit after taking a 6-0 lead to the eighth inning, Sale didn’t show even the hint of disgust.
“Obviously you want to win every time out,” Sale said. “You want your team to win any time you get in a position like that. But I’m not the first to say it: The last three outs are the hardest ones to get, and I’ve been there before, and it’s tough. It’s a tough lineup too. It is what it is and you come back tomorrow ready to win.”
What’s astonishing is that Sale’s most statistics indicate improvement in his performance.
In his second full season as a starting pitcher, Sale increased his innings total by 22 1/3 to 214. His strikeouts jumped from 192 to 226. His walks per nine innings decreased from 2.39 in 2012 to 1.93 while his strikeouts per nine jumped from 9 to 9.49.
Sale’s FIP dropped from 3.27 to 3.17 and his Wins Above Replacement increased from 4.7 to 5.1, according to fangraphs.com.
“It’s baseball,” Sale said on Sept. 21. “It’s sports. It’s definitely not the first time it’s happened and it’s definitely not the last time. This game has been around for 100 years and it’s gotten crazier probably every single year, and it’s probably going to continue to do that. So just keep your head up and not worry about the what-ifs and maybes and worry about what we’ve got tomorrow.”
Top 13 stories of 2013
13. Wins and losses don't define Chris Sale's season