By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Coming off another fine season, White Sox ace Chris Sale will now delve into becoming more efficient in 2016. The idea of not trying to strike out every hitter seems to be an easily attainable goal for a pitcher with the electric stuff and arm angles that Sale throws from.READ MORE: Man Fatally Shot While Working On Car In Front Of His Fernwood Home
Sale set a franchise single-season record with 274 strikeouts in 2015. He had eight consecutive starts in which he struck out at least 10 batters, including five straight in which he fanned 12 or more.
As dominant of a pitcher as he was, a more economic way of obtaining outs appears to be the goal of Sale and pitching coach Don Cooper.
“Coop and I actually talked about that,” Sale said Friday evening at SoxFest. “We went over to UIC and played catch in their facility. He was saying to me, ‘Maybe we can be more efficient with your pitches.”
Throwing strikes isn’t a problem for Sale, who will turn 27 in March. His 6.52 strikeout-to-walk ratio was tops in the American League last season, and he walked just 42 batters in 208 2/3 innings.
What Cooper proposed a more direct way to get outs and cut down on the wear and tear of striking out batters. Sale threw 3,323 pitches in 2015, the 11th-most in baseball, according to sportingcharts.com. He likely would’ve ranked in the top five had he not been pushed back in the rotation a bit to open up 2015 as he finished recovering from a foot injury.
“You can’t strike out a guy on strike one or strike two,” Sale said. “Trying to get quick, easy outs is the name of the game, too.”
The quickest way to accomplishing that goal would be throwing more sinkers in on the hands. Sale certainly isn’t afraid to do so, as he tied for the MLB lead with 13 hit batters a year ago.READ MORE: Red Cross Shelter Open At Thomas Jefferson Junior High School In Woodridge
And one this much clear: The macho strikeout part of Sale’s game won’t change. He’ll still amass plenty of whiffs. What could potentially change is the propensity to run into deep counts and max out at-bats before an out is even registered.
“The way to do that is to throw more quality strikes early in the count,” Sale said. “I had a college coach say that, ‘You want (a batter) on or out in three pitches. If you can do that, we will be all right.'”
Sale was asked about his second half of the 2015 season, in which he averaged about 6 1/3 innings per start compared to seven innings per start in his first 17 outings before the All-Star break. It was certainly a topic on his mind.
“Pitching and defense win games,” he said. “If we can get those two areas going and get some runs along with that, we will be in a good situation.”
Sale is 36-29 over the past three campaigns while the team has been 62 games under the break-even mark. Helping lead his teammates out of losing streaks and bad patches is what Sale believes he can bring as a young leader on this team.
“That is something important,” Sale said. “You always want to help new guys coming in. We all have been there in new places. When you are around people who have done it for a while, you just feel more comfortable when they are helping you out. I believe (leading) that way is important.”
Sale has been selected as an All-Star in four straight seasons. The White Sox have their ace under contract for two more seasons and hold a team option for two more years through 2019. Chicago will pay a total of just $47.15 million for the four years remaining on the deal, during an era in which the likes of David Price, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke are making $30 million or more annually.MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Temperatures In The 70s Tuesday
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.