Tank Talks Sox: Chris Sale should be the AL starter in the All-Star Game

Jason Vargas has had a terrific season, but it's not even close

David Tanklefsky
June 30, 2017 - 12:06 pm

It's a terrific story. Kansas City pitcher Jason Vargas is a 34-year-old, 12-year big league veteran. He is pitching in his first full season in three years after Tommy John surgery sidelined him for most of 2015 and all of last season. When he has been healthy, he has been a league-average pitcher, posting a career 4.04 ERA and 98 ERA+. This year, Vargas leads the American League in ERA, ERA+, and wins. It's a fairy tale season by any measure, reminiscent of R.A. Dickey's Cy Young season in 2012 at age 37. Vargas's season should make any seam-head smile.

But he should not start the All-Star Game. That honor should go to Chris Sale, who has been the league's most dominant pitcher since the first day he took the mound.

In an era that's becoming more and more dominanted by big stikeout pitchers, Sale has been in a class by himself this season for starting pitchers. His 4.7 WAR is most among big league pitchers by nearly a full run, according to Fangraphs, with Nationals pitcher and presumptive NL All-Star starter Max Scherzer in second place but well behind.

Among starting pitchers who qualify for the Cy Young award, Sale is first in strikeouts per nine innings and first in fielding independent pitching (FIP), which many analysts see as a better measure of true talent than ERA. Sale's 2.05 FIP is better than half a run lower than the second place hurler, Cleveland's Corey Kluber. He leads the league in innings pitched, strikeouts and swinging strike percentage.

Let's compare some of the data on Sale and Vargas and throw in Twins starter Ervin Santana, who also has some All-Star starter buzz, for good measure:

Sale: 113.2 IP, 2.77 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 12/3 K/9, 0.906 WHIP, 4.7 WAR
Vargas: 94.1 IP, 2.29 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 6.7 K/9, 1.134 WHIP, 2.2 WAR
Santana: 106 IP, 2.80 ERA, 4.58 FIP, 6.9 K/9, 1.047 WHIP, 1.2 WAR

Ask yourself which of these three is most likely to continue this performance through the remainder of the season. Don't over think it: it's the guy who misses the most bats, has the most dominant stuff and the longest track record of big league success.

Barring a terrible last two starts, Sale will become the 12th pitcher to have more than one season in which they go 110 innings with a sub-three ERA and at least 150 strikeouts in the first half. Others on the list include Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan.

If Sale's first-half numbers remain consistent, he'd be on pace to become just the second pitcher in league history to post 220 innings or more with 20 wins, less than 50 walks and more than 300 strikeouts. He'd also become the 21st pitcher ever to throw at least 220 innings and post a WHIP less than 0.910. We're in historic territory.

Out of nowhere, Jason Vargas has had a terrific season. He's a great story and I'm rooting for his continued success. But if he starts the All-Star Game over Chris Sale this year, I'm going to lose my mind.

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