BOSTON -- The one thing he won't do is shake, shake, shake.
Chris Sale has taken a Little League saying, "just catch it and throw it," and turned it into one of the most dominating approaches anywhere.
“I think he’s getting better every time,” catcher Sandy Leon said after a 2-1 win over the Rays on Saturday. “It’s really fun to catch him.”
When you’re never wrong as a catcher, it has to be fun.
Sale almost never shakes off his catcher. Ever. And it's part of the reason he’s so captivating to watch.
Rick Porcello really couldn’t locate on Friday night and was trying to be too overpowering with his fastball. But it also appeared Leon and Porcello weren’t on the same page.
There was none of that a day later. It helps that Sale, unlike most any pitcher, cedes control of the pitch calling to the catcher on virtually every toss.
Boston Red Sox
The lefty’s rhythm is central to his dominance. He delivers the ball with about 20 seconds in between pitches on average, the fourth fastest pace this season, per FanGraphs.
That pace helps the defense. Opponents have a harder time getting comfortable.
But how Sale actually achieves that pace sets him even further apart from the pack.
The no-shake approach dates prior to his time with the White Sox, back to a conversation he had in his college days about the value of where he throws — not what.
“It’s never what pitch, it’s the location,” Sale said Saturday. “Not to get too in depth, but you can watch BP and guys get themselves out on a 60 mph an hour fastball right down the middle. So I figure it’s more important the location than it is the pitch that I’m throwing.”
Florida Golf Coast Universit coach Dave Tollett said that's his program's philosophy.
"Throw every pitch with intent," Tollett said Saturday night by phone. "And if you hit the right spot, we should be good. ... We still do the same thing and we’ve had success.
"He didn’t shake. But I did give him the opportunity to shake, though. I think that’s just the trust that he has in his catcher."
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sale has three wipeout, awesome pitches that he can rely on basically whenever he wants. (That figure of three doesn’t even count the variant sliders he can throw.)
On the first pitch, Sale throws a four-seam fastball 37 percent of the time lifetime, per BrooksBaseball.net. That’s true on 0-2 as well.
But the beauty of his approach is that if there’s a pattern his brain might subconsciously want him to fall into, he never has the chance to.
There’s another benefit here as well.
Thinking less about the sequence — a luxury few pitchers can afford, although maybe some would be wise to consider — frees up more brainpower for Sale to focus on delivering the pitch.
“It just clears my head," Sale said, "it’s one less thing to think about."
No one else on the Red Sox takes a no-shake approach, because probably no one else could pull it off.
But if Sale's 12 strikeouts in seven innings against the Rays weren’t enough; if the three overwhelming starts to begin Sale’s Red Sox career hadn’t convinced you; here’s another reason to appreciate the best spectacle at Fenway Park since Pedro Martinez.
Dating to 1913, the only other Sox starter besides Sale to strike out at least seven, allow two runs or fewer and go at least seven innings in his first three games of the season is Martinez, if you were wondering.