Another smooth March reintroduction for Michael Kopech

We’ve all been there: You’ve started reading a book for pleasure, only to get interrupted by reading for work. By the time you get back to the novel you were looking forward to, you have to start it all over again. Chapter One is still a pleasure a second time, but it’s too familiar to be a thrill. It’s going to take another session or two in order to get locked in.

That’s how I felt watching Michael Kopech’s first outing of this spring, which came 364 days after his first and only outing of the 2020 season. Both were 1-2-3 innings with one strikeout. The differences were subtler — 11 pitches then, nine pitches now; 101 mph max fastball then, 99 mph now.

The biggest departures were visual. In a nod to his season-opening assignment, he worked exclusively from the stretch, and he went fastball-slider-curveball on his first three pitches. He explained his delivery and arsenal as a deliberate attempt to acclimate to relief, preparing for appearances where the windup isn’t an option, and enjoying the luxury of not worrying about saving pitches for later looks.

It worked just as well as his fastball-heavy approach during last year’s inning. He got a groundout from Austin Nola on a curveball …

… froze Jorge Mateo on a 2-2 fastball …

… and then got Ivan Castillo to fly out to center on the first pitch, which was also Kopech’s last.

The reaction from hitters suggested he was either getting a generous outside corner, showing excellent gloveside command, or some combination thereof. But if Kopech received any help, he also helped himself. When he fell behind 2-0 on Mateo, he responded by pumping one high fastball over Mateo’s swing plane, then throwing a decent slider that Mateo pulled into the ground foul of third base, which leveled the count for the punchout.

We’d already seen Kopech reintroduce himself to standard March competition, so the satisfaction is going to come when Kopech proves able to do it again, and again, and again. The nice thing about the shift to relief work is that he doesn’t have a mountain in front of him. He’ll likely go an inning at a time the rest of the way, maybe two if it’s smooth. He doesn’t have to worry about in-game stamina or command of all his pitches. How he looks in his second game in three days is the bigger task at hand. Hopefully the adjustments that take place away from cameras are going just as well as the changes that we saw on the mound.

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Nice sum up of Kopech’s spring debut. One thing though, at one point you reference him facing Aaron Nola, but I think you mean Austin Nola. I know the Padres went crazy acquiring starting pitching this offseason, but Aaron is one they didn’t get (…yet).


The best Nola has jambalaya.


A to that!


I don’t want to be overly optimistic, but if all of these (very early) results remain somewhat consistent, the Sox will have a flat out filthy staff top to bottom. Obviously Kopech and Crochet being added to an already very good bullpen is a huge part, but Reynaldo Lopez has looked good as well. The only spot of concern would be Cease, which is an example of first world pitching problems.


Regarding pitcher velocity, an interesting article in this AM Athletic regarding teams’ ability to develop pitching velocity – WS dead last with -1.2 MPH. Damning quotes – “The White Sox, are the most old-school team in baseball,” leaving this scout equally unsurprised that they ranked at the bottom of the list. Multiple people mentioned the White Sox, Royals and Nationals as teams that have been the slowest to change their pitching development process, with only Kansas City in the top half of this velo-added list.
Hopefully this trend is being reversed as we speak.


Agreed. I’m hoping Ethan Katz is the start of a new organizational philosophy for all levels of the organization.

Looking at each pitching coach by level, all of the pitching coaches are 40 or younger with the exception being the AA pitching coach. It does seem to me that they are turning to a modern day and analytical approach at all levels.

Kelley, Dalquist, Thompson, Vera etc are going to be super important pieces for the White Sox window. We are going to need them to either directly help the Sox or become a movable piece to acquire another player to help the team. I hope we have the right people in place to develop them.


One thing I like is the shift to younger pitching prospects in the last couple drafts. Being able to control workload reduces stress on these arms. College coaches are looking to win and so they’re pitching their top talent an awful lot. By the time guys like Rodon, Hansen, and Fulmer entered the Sox system, there were a ton of miles on their arms (and shoulders and elbows). This could probably explain some of the loss in velocity pointed out by the Athletic article as well.


Spencer Adams has left me scarred though.


So I don’t have an Athletic subscription so I’ll have to ask you: what exactly is the article trying to say? The White Sox bring players in to the organization and during the development process those pitchers lose on average 1.2 MPH off… their fastball I guess? Are we talking peak velocity or where they are sitting in game? Is there (or even should there be) any adjustment for overall organizational velocity?


Simple answer, starting pitcher reported velo on draft day vs. MLB debut velo; other factors at play as well. For comparison, Brewers at + 3.8 the highest, only other minus is Giants at -0.2. There is a chart for all teams – other damning thing I noticed is that the sample size for WS starters vs. all teams is that the Sox have only 2 to measure, also the smallest # of all teams. This could skew the #s, but also could say that Sox have least starter debuts in the measuring period. I couldn’t find a reference period in the article.


Sorry, could say that Sox were least effective at drafting starters during the measuring period.


It seems to me this isn’t *necessarily* a problem, though. For instance, if an organizational’s philosophy was to teach movement rather than straight velocity, that could result in a consistent drop in velocity even though the pitchers got better/more difficult to hit.

I’m not saying this is true in the White Sox case (I don’t have enough data to know), but it does seem plausibly true given Cooper’s emphasis on cutters. That’s not to say the Sox have been good at player development, but it’s not necessarily a “troubling” trend.


I was going to mention the anecdote about how Kopech is trying to take ticks off his fastball for better control and how that could impact these statistics but I have to imagine that isn’t something specific to the Sox and it also sounds like Kopech wouldn’t be part of this data set. It just seems like a really strange thing to track and I don’t know that it actually gives you any useful conclusions.

Trooper Galactus

The first thing I thought of was Coop’s emphasis on cutters. I recall that being a part of why Fulmer went from sitting 94-95 to low-90s and he never got a feel for it.


Really small sample size. Who were the 2 White Sox starters? Kopech starting for the Sox with his bad elbow pre-Tommy John? There’s 3 mph right there.


I have a creeping suspicion we’ll see this trend in a different direction now Cooper is gone. I was able to get an inside on the pitching philosophy due to my cousin being drafted by the Sox as a pitcher in the early 2000’s. ‘Stay tall and fall’ to create downward trajectory. I understand the logic since the mound is lowered to pander to the hitter, but that philosophy takes the pitcher’s strongest muscles out of the equation (legs) = less velo.


The story for the White Sox is only graduating 2 pitchers


Who are the pitchers?


Stiever and Dunning then, I guess? Poor sample for a velocity-related analysis.

Now maybe there’s a different issue with how pitchers are recovering from Tommy John. Sure, sign me up, our WS not so hot lately.

Last edited 2 years ago by tommytwonines