Tank Talks Sox: Chris Sale just had the best opening month ever for a Red Sox pitcher

His early returns surpass all Boston greats in modern era

David Tanklefsky
May 05, 2017 - 1:04 pm

No Red Sox pitcher has ever started off their Boston career with a display more dominant than Chris Sale. Including Pedro Martinez. This can't be overstated: we just witnessed the greatest first month a pitcher has ever had in Boston.

In April, Sale did something only replicated by four other pitchers in baseball history. He posted an ERA below 1.20, a WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) below 0.80 and a strikeout/9 innings rate above 12 for the month (minimum 30 innings pitched). The others? Clayton Kershaw, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.

Through six starts (his five in April plus one May start on Tuesday night), Sale has led the majors in pitching WAR, innings pitched and strikeouts. He is K-ing an insane 37.5% of all batters he faces. 

In the last 20 years, the Red Sox have signed four top-caliber free agent pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, David Price and Sale. At least out of the gate, Sale's numbers surpass them all.

Pedro in 1998 is really the best comparison to Sale this year. In '98, Martinez was 26 and coming to Boston on the heels of his first Cy Young award. He had been an established ace for four years and was a two-time All-Star. Sale is two years older than '98 Pedro and has been an established ace for five years. He's a five-time All-Star with four straight top five Cy Young finishes. Here's how they match up in their first six starts in Boston:

'17 Sale: 45.2 ip, 1.38 ERA, 8 bb, 63 k, 12.4 k/9, 0.745 whip
'98 Martinez: 43.1 ip, 2.28 ERA, 12 bb, 57k, 11.8 k/9, 0.992 whip

It's not really close. The caveat, of course, is that Pedro was working in an era where players loomed over the field juiced up like JWoww's boyfriend on Jersey Shore. Sale is pitching in an environment in which strikeout numbers are way up and ERAs are down league wide by a half-run since the peak of the steroid era.

Schilling in 2004 had a good start (3.19 ERA, 45 k, 1.18 whip) but he's not close to the Pedro/Sale stratosphere. Then there's the $217 Million Dollar Man currently riding the disabled list. The start to David Price's career in Boston (6.14 ERA, 49 k, 1.28 whip) was...uninspiring to be kind.

Just for kicks, though he was a 21-year-old prospect and not an established free agent, I looked at Roger Clemens's first starts in his rookie year of 1984. Not pretty. The Rocket posted a 7.13 ERA and allowed 56 hits in 35.1 innings in his first six starts. 

So no one comes close to Sale. He joins Pedro as the only other Sox pitcher to have a month with a sub-1.2 ERA and at least 50 strikeouts. And he did it in his first month with the team.

All of this isn't to say he's going to be better than Pedro over the course of his tenure in Boston. Plus Martinez comes with intangibles that can't be overlooked. He was a tiny flame thrower who gassed all of the steroid era meatheads. Then there was his cult of personality. Sale appears to be unhumorous and is possibly a maniac. Pedro was a one-man quote machine with an insatiable appetite for practical jokes and clubhouse hijinks. Sale is not bringing a little person through the clubhouse door or having teammates tie him to a post in the dugout. Pedro broke the curse. For many fans, that means more than any statistic you could throw out.

On the mound, they are both absolute assassins. Sale may not end up being Pedro. But watching him so far is conjuring up memories of the great Dominican. That's something many of us never thought we'd see again.

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