The meager New York Yankees offense, ranked 25th in fWAR entering Thursday night and 24th in runs scored, will have a difficult task lined up against them on Friday night in the Bronx. The Bomber bats will have to face Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale, who has proven to be one of the most dominant hurlers in baseball over the last few years.
This year is no different. The lefty stands fourth overall and second in the American League in fWAR. He has a 1.79 ERA with a 2.76 FIP, 8.4 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9. Opposing hitters have hit .165 off him, and he has a 0.77 WHIP–best in the AL. Funnily enough, as dominate as he has been, his teammate Jose Quintana has gotten off to an even better start himself, nudging out his teammate 1.8 to 1.6 in fWAR.
Sale's dominance has stretched out over the last few years and he's no stranger to the Yankees. In nine starts against them, the lefty has posted a 1.21 ERA in 44.2 IP with 55 strikeouts and just 12 walks. That's enough to make fans grimace, especially when you consider that those stats were posted against lineups that were much more potent than the one that has struggled mightily in 2016.
So with that said, what can the Yankees hope to do against him? How can they crack the code?
The first thing they can try is to attack Sale early. Per Baseball-Reference, batters have hit .189 with a .514 OPS against Sale in their first plate appearance. That doesn't show much, but when you consider they have then gone on to hit just .129 with a .304 OPS in their second appearance, and .170 with a .573 OPS in their third appearance, the Yankees might have better luck trying to get to him in the first few innings.
To hammer the point home, batters have a .355 OBP and .595 OPS off Sale in the first inning. He has walked four in the first inning alone this year while allowing only six total free passes over the rest of his starts. So if the Yankees, who may be passive to a fault this season, are patient at the dish they may be able to force the southpaw into early trouble.
Additionally, some of Sale's peripherals do indicate that he might be getting a bit lucky this season. One in particular is Sale's BABIP. In his career, Sale has a .289 batting average on balls in play, but in seven starts this year he's amounted a .206 BABIP, which may not be sustainable for him. That's currently the fourth-best level in the league, so perhaps a good night is in store for the Yankees if they can make some contact.
In 2015, Sale had a swinging strike rate of 14.6%, this year it is at a career-worst 9.8%. That's a 5% drop in swinging strikes, which seems to corroborate his drop in strikeout rate over the last two seasons.
It's obviously a small sample size, but his whiff rate seems to be trending downward. This could bode well for the Yankees if they choose their pitches carefully. With any luck, Sale will continue to throw hittable pitches and the lineup will be able to put their chances to good use.
Facing a dominant pitcher might not be what the doctor ordered for the Yankees, but that does not mean that all hope is lost. There's reason to believe that they could strike tonight, and if they do, it would be Sale's first loss of the season.