Two young pitchers who have performed very well in their brief major league careers are Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. Both youngsters were dominant in college. Strasburg was the top overall pick in the 2009 draft, while Sale was selected 13th overall a year later.
Both made their major league debuts very quickly. In fact, Sale signed right after the 2010 draft and was in the majors after only 10 innings in the minor leagues.
Strasburg has been solely a starting pitcher while Sale started in the bullpen and this season became a starting pitcher (Sale did have a relief appearance earlier this season, when he came in relief after the White Sox moved him back to the pen because of elbow stiffness). Strasburg and Sale, after both were called up to the major leagues in mid-season during 2010, have been downright dominating at times.
Strasburg has gone 15-5, 2.51 ERA in his short career, while Sale has a 12-5, 2.41 ERA. Both have similar WHIPs, ERA+ and H/9 numbers, with high K/9 rates. Strasburg’s numbers have been affected by his Tommy John surgery and Sale’s overall numbers by his two-year bullpen stint.
Each filled a glaring need for their teams. Strasburg became an attendance draw for a franchise in the early throes of their resurrection. Sale, however, was needed to become a stopper in the bullpen for two years before his transformation to starting pitcher, a role he has known throughout his entire career.
Let’s fantasize a little and plot out one of these young pitchers careers. We can choose either Strasburg or Sale in our “for instance”, and since I am an American League fan, I will select Sale. Remember, although I will consistently reference Sale, these scenarios could also play out for Strasburg.
For arguments sake let’s say Sale, who has two Grade A pitches (fastball & slider), plus a very nice developing change-up, continues to pitch well in 2012 leading the White Sox to a playoff run. He ends up winning 16 games, losing 7 while posting a great ERA of 2.85. Bothered by some arm issues the following season, Sale regresses to a record of 9-7.* The White Sox resist the Joba Chamberlain urge to move Sale back to the bullpen and he comes back strong in 2014, winning 22 games, losing 5 with a stellar ERA of 2.54. His strikeouts pile up consistently during that 2014 season, and Sale finished with 267 whiffs.
He will, of course, win his first Cy Young award.
*Sale does have a wicked delivery, one that if off-line to the plate and takes his throwing arm back way behind his body, getting into a high “Inverted W” arm action. Many evaluators believe this type of delivery is great for his velocity, but terrible for his health, and some have predicted a future arm surgery. While predicting future arm surgeries are not difficult for today’s pitchers (many, many pitchers who are babied have them –including Stephen Strasburg), I believe Sale’s delivery (except being off-line to the plate) is more like Randy Johnson’s. Johnson leaned over when delivering the ball, giving the image of a terrible delivery, when his delivery was actually not harmful to his health.
Over the next six seasons (while hitting his prime), Sale racks up totals of 20, 18, 17, 21 (another Cy award), 18 and 18 wins. American League hitters are oftentimes in awe and state “Sale is the premiere pitcher in the A.L…,” and “the movement on his pitchers sometimes make him impossible to hit.” After a devastating 19 strikeout performance against the cross town Chicago Cubs in the summer of 2015, a Sports Illustrated writer quotes the home plate umpire as saying, ” that was the best pitched game I have ever umpired.”
Remember that Strasburg (despite still being on strict pitch counts and innings limits) is putting up equally gaudy number in the National League. Because of these two phenoms, the drafts of 2009 (Strasburg, Dustin Ackley, Zach Wheeler, Drew Storen, Shelby Miller and Mike Trout) and 2010 (Sale, Bryce Harper, James Taillon, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, Christian Yelich, Zach Lee) is now being considered two of the best drafts of all time.
After those 7 great seasons, Sale runs into some unforeseen difficulties and more elbow problems, posting only 31 wins over the next 4 seasons. But, in 2025 he bounces back, making 34 starts and going 21-7 with a 2.30 ERA and 295 strikeouts. A third Cy Young award takes its rightful place in his trophy case (just missed his fourth in 2015, placing second to Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees). But, late in the comeback 2025 season Sale has a recurrence of the elbow problems which had plagued him over the prior four seasons.
With the White Sox clearly wanting him to continue playing, at age 36 Sale decides to take the Sandy Koufax/Mike Mussina route and retires gracefully from the game, and as George Costanzo would likely approve, he exits on a high note.
His career numbers are exceptional with a record of 213-118, an ERA of 2.97, with 2882 strikeouts recorded in slightly more than 3000 innings. He won the three CY Young awards and helped lead his team to at least one World Series title.
Remember it could also be Strasburg that has this career.
After that type of career, do you think Sale or Strasburg would be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely they would!
The writers would be falling all over themselves to proclaim Sale/Strasburg as the “best pitcher of his generation” and are predicting they might generate close to the vote totals of Greg Maddux, who became the first unanimous player voted into the Hall of Fame.
So why then is there any debate at all about Roger Clemens’ chances for Hall of Fame induction?
Those career “fantasy numbers” presented above are exactly Clemens’ career totals AFTER the 1997 season in Toronto. This was the season BEFORE he has been named by his trainer Brain McNamee of being on the receiving end of “performance enhancing steroids” and human growth hormone (HGH).
Early in Clemens’ career, he had shoulder surgery and bounced back to go 24-4, slightly better than what Sale or Strasburg “did” above. But Clemens also won four Cy Young awards during this early period, before his ultra-competitive nature allegedly pushed him into the forbidden zone of performance enhancers.
About 99% of the baseball public has already persecuted Clemens, and an informal survey of 80 probable Hall of Fame voters, taken the day after the Mitchell Report came out, witnessed 28 saying they would vote YES for Clemens, 21 voting NO, with 31 UNDECIDED. Many undecided’s are clearly in the NO category after Clemens’ recent trial acquittal.
The source of Clemens’ involvement was his long time trainer, Brian McNamee, who said he personally injected Clemens with steroids and HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons. Most people who have an opinion believe McNamee, but what McNamee said was under direct pressure from the federal government to “tell the truth” or face deep prosecution for distributing controlled substances.
While Greg Anderson kept his secrets regarding Barry Bonds, McNamee felt compelled to tell what he knew. And like I mentioned earlier, mostly everyone believes him.
But for the powers that be (the writers) to reduce Clemens’ entire body of work before the allegations made by McNamee is ridiculous.
Clemens is a Hall of Fame player with HOF credentials. If you add in the seasons which McNamee said he didn’t administer PEDs to Clemens (1999, 2002-2007), the non-alleged PED numbers are even more staggering. If you want to remove all the seasons from Clemens’ career after his first use of PEDs, then you still have a tremendous career. Clemens (and Barry Bonds) were HOF players before they became supposed “cheats.”
Should we then remove Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker from the HOF, great ball players who were implicated in a game-throwing scandal during the 1919 season? Do we remove from the HOF all the players like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Willie Stargell and Mike Schmidt who supposedly used “greenies” and other amphetamine drugs to stay on the field during the 1960s and 1970s?
Is it OK because the use of greenies (and reds, etc) that was widely accepted in the game back then?
MLB writers constantly call on the game’s umpires to just call the game and not impose themselves into the game. Now it appears like the writers are not only calling the HOF game, but are actually imposing themselves into the contest.
And that is bad for baseball.