Red Sox ace Chris Sale returns, which could help clear up an injury-riddled AL Cy Young race


One of the more intriguing individual award races this season is the American League Cy Young, and it’s mostly due to ill-timed injuries. 

Red Sox ace Chris Sale was the front-runner and it was a good story, given his history. For each of the past six seasons, Sale has gotten Cy Young votes, finishing second, third, fourth, fifth (twice) and sixth. 

Through 23 starts, Sale is 12-4 with a 1.97 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 219 strikeouts against 33 walks in 146 innings. He leads his league in ERA, WHIP, FIP, hit rate, strikeout rate and more. He has been the best pitcher in the AL this season. And now comes that dreaded word. 

But …

Note the innings. 

Sale has been on the disabled list for weeks. He’s set to be activated and make a start Tuesday night and be eased back in to the rotation. It’s a definite storyline here with a few weeks left in the season. 

Interestingly enough, another would-be Cy Young candidate in the AL is also hurt: Trevor Bauer

Bauer is 12-6 with a 2.22 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 214 strikeouts in 166 innings. He trails only Sale and Rays ace Blake Snell in WAR ( version) among AL pitchers. He also has a stress fracture and hasn’t pitched since Aug. 11. 

Speaking of Snell, he also missed time with an injury. It’s pretty remarkable, actually. The arguable top three AL pitchers this season have all been injured and it clouds the AL Cy Young picture. Check out the innings pitched among top candidates: 

  1. Justin Verlander, 195
    Corey Kluber, 195
  2. Gerrit Cole, 182 1/3
  3. Bauer, 166
  4. Snell, 157
  5. Sale, 146

We probably have to throw in closers Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen, but that’s a different animal. Just in terms of the starters, the gap in innings pitched from the top three to the with much better run prevention presents quite the conundrum among voters. Take a look at ERA now: 

  1. Sale, 1.97
  2. Snell, 2.06
  3. Bauer, 2.22
  4. Verlander, 2.72
  5. Cole, 2.86
  6. Kluber, 2.91

Again, it’s a big gap, but in the opposite direction. 

With Sale returning Tuesday night, it’s entirely possible he’ll make this an easy vote. Still, his workload is relevant. The Red Sox have run away with the AL and are going to be the top seed. They need him at full strength for the ALDS and won’t push him at all until that time comes. In perusing the winners of the AL Cy Young, the winner in recent years has generally been well over 200 innings. It’s usually 220+. In fact, in a non-strike season, the last time an AL Cy Young winner pitched fewer than 200 innings was 1992 and that was when Dennis Eckersley (closer) won. 

On that front, get this: There has never been an AL Cy Young winner who was a starting pitcher with fewer than 200 innings pitched. 

Sale won’t come close, nor will Bauer or Snell. 

The lowest total of innings ever for an AL Cy Young winner who was a starter came last season, with Corey Kluber’s 203 2/3. 

Will it go down again with Sale, Snell or (doubtful) Bauer? Or will the voters go with a workload guy like Verlander or Kluber? 

Sale’s start Tuesday will give us a bit of a glimpse. He and Snell will then have several starts remaining. 

Overall, it’s pretty fascinating to watch this race unfold regarding the workload vs. run prevention. My hunch is that Sale will finally win, but in doing so, he’s going to make history in having such an underwhelming number of innings pitched. 

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