Chris Sale’s Slider is Getting Even Better

The rich get richer.

There’s a reason the greats are great, right?

After years of health struggles with the Red Sox, Chris Sale finally looks like Chris Sale again. The 35-year-old looks 25, with a 3.00 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP, and strikeout rate above 30%. Every 5th day for Atlanta looks like a 7-time All-Star is on the mound, something many (myself included) weren’t sure if we were ever going to see again from Sale.

Sure, he doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, but his fastball sitting at 94.7 mph is quite the encouraging sign of health. It’s important for results, but it’s also not why we’re here today.

Sale may no longer be a member of the Red Sox, but he’s still embodying a Red Sox pitcher in the best way possible: he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more sliders than ever. This is only the second season for Sale that his slider has been his primary pitch, with the other one being in 2019. Sale is throwing his slider 40% of the time (an all-time high), two percent ahead of the four-seam fastball. Including his sinker, Sale throws a fastball 45.9% of the time.

Chris Sale’s Pitch Usage by Year Since 2018

Sale didn’t pitch in 2020 and only threw 5.2 IP in 2022, so those years were excluded. But from 2018 to 2019 and then again from 2021 to now, he slowly increased his slider usage. It’s a simple concept: throw your best pitch more. Though not as easy in practice, Sale has made the necessary changes to dominate with the slider in ways he hasn’t before.


The Physical Improvements

From a pure stuff perspective, the 2024 slider is the best it has ever been (since public stuff numbers have been available).

Chris Sale’s Stuff+ by Pitch Since 2021

Take 2022 with a grain of salt (only 33 sliders thrown), and this year stands out significantly. Sale’s slider this year has around half an inch more drop and an inch less sweep while being thrown slightly harder (up half a tick to 78.4 mph). Even though it has lost some sweep, 10.6 inches is the 4th-most among all left-handed SP (min. 25 thrown). It’s also getting 2331 RPMs, the highest since 2019 (excluding 2022). With the higher velocity, the additional spin is generating more drop, which hitters aren’t prepared for.

He’s also slightly adjusted his release point, trading an inch of release height for an inch towards first base. Sale’s 3.3 horizontal release point is the most extreme for any left-handed slider. Paired with the movement he gets, Sale stands alone. Though that’s generally been the case since his debut in 2010, it’s a good reminder that Sale’s slider is one of baseball’s outlier pitches.

Top 5 LHP SP Sliders by Horizontal Release Point

It’s also worth noting that this movement profile has been settled into as the season has progressed. Sale came out of the gates throwing sliders averaging 14 inches of sweep, but has consistently been around 10.5 for May and June.


The Approach Improvements

With a slightly improved physical pitch, much of the results-based improvement has come from Sale’s use of the pitch. With such an aggressive movement profile, hitters are content waiting for fastballs and changeups to do damage. Rather than giving hitters an opportunity to see other pitches, Sale has decided to attack with the slider.

The slider now has a 46.9% zone rate, its highest figure since 2017 and a 7.5% increase from last year. It’s forcing hitters to either give up a called strike or attempt to hit the pitch, both advantageous to the crafty lefty. One at-bat against Keibert Ruiz showed Sale simply dominating with the slider. He asks Ruiz to try hitting the pitch, but he can’t despite getting multiple looks at it in the same location.

Sale has increased his slider usage in early counts by 5%, trying to get called strikes that he knows hitters aren’t going to offer at. He’s still using the slider at a similar rate in 2-strike counts, where he knows his advantage.

This cumulatively gives the slider a 20.3% called strike rate and a 22.1% swinging strike rate, giving it a whopping 42.4% CSW%. There isn’t another slider in baseball (min. 25 thrown) with a CS% and SwStr% greater than 20%. The only pitchers with higher CSW% on their slider are Shane Bieber and Spencer Strider, who are both out for the year. Given that Sale is throwing the pitch more than ever, its effectiveness is showing itself even more.

More strikes mean more swings, which also makes pitches out of the zone enticing to hitters. Hitters are swinging 6.5% more frequently at the slider but also chasing the pitch 7% more. With far more swings, hitters are making contact less frequently. The slider has always suppressed contact, but its newfound strike rate has given it an exceptional 62.2% Str-ICR (92nd percentile).

Sale’s slider saw a slight physical change and significant location change, and the pitch is now back at peak performance. Both whiff rate and hit suppression stats look as good, if not better than Sale’s prime years. He’s shown his dominant form already, but Sale’s redemption is going to give him a shot at that elusive Cy Young award when the dust settles at the end of the year.

Nate Schwartz

Nate is currently writing for the Going Deep team at Pitcher List. He is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals, devil magic, and Matt Carpenter salsa supporter. You can follow him on Twitter/X/whatever @_nateschwartz. Left-handed pitchers make him happy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login