Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his left arm two weeks ago, and was to be reassessed two weeks later. Sale recently resumed throwing, but on Thursday, the Red Sox announced that he will undergo Tommy John surgery.
The #RedSox announced today that LHP Chris Sale will undergo ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery (Tommy John) on his left elbow.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) March 19, 2020
Tommy John was likely to be needed at some point for Sale with this injury, and it makes sense to just it done as soon as possible when you consider that we may not even have baseball in 2020 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. *Hopefully* there will be baseball, and ideally by early June, but it’s very possible that the season is shut down with the way things are trending.
If we do have baseball in 2020, it will feature a very different Red Sox team than we’re used to seeing. Boston already traded their best player (and arguably the second-best player in baseball) in February, when they sent outfielder Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And now their ace is out for 2020.
The ZiPS system projected Sale for 5.0 WAR (wins above replacement) and Betts for 6.1 in 2020, so that’s 11 wins on paper that the Red Sox would need to make up for. That’s while playing in the same division as the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. So, this is shaping up as a tough season for Boston (again, if we have a season), and we may see them enter a mini rebuild mode (which the Betts trade already started, of course).
Sale, 31 on March 30, is entering year one of a five-year, $145 million contract, after signing an extension last March. The southpaw’s 2019 season ended in August due to elbow inflammation.
While Sale’s 4.40 ERA in 2019 wasn’t pretty, the peripherals think he was much better: 3.39 FIP (7th in AL), 35.6 strikeout percentage (2nd in AL), and and a 29.6 K-BB% (3rd in AL). He was likely a victim of the juiced baseball, allowing home runs on 19.5% of the flyballs he gave up (2nd-most in the AL; he’d previously never had worse than a 12.5% HR/FB rate). If he can get back to full health following the Tommy John surgery, odds are he still has a few more years left as a legitimate ace.