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Chris Sale trade: Three stats that show why Braves are taking chance on veteran lefty

Chris Sale trade: Three stats that show why Braves are taking chance on veteran lefty


The Atlanta Braves closed out 2023 with a surprising move, obtaining left-handed starter Chris Sale from the Boston Red Sox on Saturday in exchange for infielder Vaughn Grissom. (You can read our full analysis of the trade here.) The Red Sox included $17 million to facilitate the trade. The Braves, then, will pay Sale only $10.5 million during the 2024 season.

Sale, a seven-time All Star, is expected to slot into Atlanta’s rotation alongside Spencer Strider, Max Fried, and Charlie Morton. Last season, he made his greatest number of starts (20) since the 2019 campaign. Sale compiled a 4.30 ERA (106 ERA+) and a 4.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio across those outings, resulting in an estimated 1.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference.

You might question the wisdom of the Braves, a team whose October was cut short by ill-timed injuries, adding another starter with durability concerns. (Sale has appeared 31 times since the end of the 2019 season.) You might also wonder if Sale still has what it takes to be a meaningful contributor on a good staff. We can’t say for sure on the first part — player health remains a great unknown for public analysis — but we feel confident about the latter half. 

To wit, below CBS Sports has highlighted three statistics that illustrate why the Braves should win their bet on Sale being an above-average starter in 2024.

1. Average exit velocity

As we noted in our initial trade analysis, teams these days tend to prioritize two traits above all when analyzing pitchers. The first is contact management. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, teams prefer their pitchers not give up loud contact on a consistent basis. There are exceptions who make it work — Zac Gallen and Framber Valdez had two of the highest average exit velocities against among starters in 2023 and that didn’t prevent them from having good seasons. But, for the most part, those on the bottom of the leaderboard tend to suffer from a deficiency, be it in the form of their stuff and/or location.

Sale

87.3 mph

34.7%

League average

88.8 mph

40.1%

The Braves can rest easy without any such concerns. Sale remains skilled at suppressing the opposition’s quality of contact. Indeed, his average exit velocity ranked 26th among pitchers who started at least 10 times in 2023. That places him just behind reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and just ahead of Eduardo Rodríguez, whom…

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