With Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale set to undergo Tommy John surgery, he is in danger of becoming the next Ron Guidry.
There was always the risk that Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale would break down. The slender lefty threw hard from an unorthodox motion, with his arsenal putting a strain on his arm. For some observers, it was a question of when, not if, Sale’s body would break down.
That moment began last year. Sale was not himself from the beginning of the season, which had been attributed to the Red Sox long postseason run and the decision to send his favored backstop, Sandy Leon, to AAA. This belief was further enforced when Sale showed flashes of his former self when Leon was recalled to Boston. However, he was unable to sustain that success as he struggled to command his arsenal. Finally, on August 17, he was placed on the Injured List with inflammation in his elbow, ending his season.
Originally, the Red Sox hoped that rest during the offseason would help Sale return to his dominant form. Those hopes were dashed when he once again experienced elbow soreness after facing hitters for the first time, resulting in Sale needed Tommy John surgery.
Sale’s dominance, and subsequent downfall due to injuries, brings to mind another slender lefty with a blazing fastball. Ron Guidry had been the ace of the New York Yankees, a slender lefty who was nicknamed Louisiana Lightning due to his heater. Like Sale, when Guidry was finally inserted into the rotation, he dominated from the start.
Over his first 11 seasons, nine of which were in the rotation, Guidry was one of the best pitchers in the American League. A four time All Star, he posted a 154-68 record with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.170 WHiP, striking out 1510 strikeouts and 542 walks over his 2026 innings. He won the 1978 Cy Youn award, and was the runner up in 1985. Guidry led the league in wins and ERA twice, with his .893 winning percentage in 1978 being the best mark of any starting pitcher in MLB history.
However, arm and shoulder woes plagued his final three years. The 1985 campaign proved to be Guidry’s final hurrah, as he was just 16-23 with a 3.91 ERA and a 1.260 WHiP, striking out 268 batters against 91 walks in just 366 innings. He was still an above average pitcher until his final season, but was not the dominant ace he had been prior to those injuries.
That is the concern the Red Sox need to have with Sale. Like Guidry, he has a slender frame from which he generates his velocity. He has been equally dominant as well, posting a career 109-73 record, along with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.035 WHiP in his first ten seasons. In 1629.2 innings, Sale has struck out 2007 batters, becoming the fastest pitcher in MLB history to notch 2000 strikeouts, and issued just 374 walks. Sale has been a seven time All Star, and led the league in strikeouts twice.
With the rare exception, pitchers such as Sale tend not to dominate for long. We had seen that before in MLB history, with pitchers such as Guidry, and even with examples like Roy Oswalt, after him. They dominate for a few years, then just as suddenly as they ascended, injuries push them out of the league.
The Boston Red Sox have to hope that Chris Sale can prove that he is not another Ron Guidry. If not, they may have spent $145 million on a shell of the pitcher they once had.