Michael Kopech still difficult to project even after fullest season yet

Technically, Michael Kopech’s season isn’t over. He’s eligible to return from the injured list on Sunday, Oct. 2, which would allow him one more start, or a couple of relief appearances for all-hands-on-deck situations.

Maybe Kopech would prefer to throw one more outing regardless of the stakes in order to prove that his shoulder inflammation was a minor, limited episode that has no bearing on his 2023 plans. The next few days will go a long way in determining whether the 2022 White Sox will need Kopech for anything before the regular season draws to a close on Oct. 5.

These 2022 White Sox open a three-game series against the Guardians at Guaranteed Rate Field tonight. They trail Cleveland by four games, so the Guardians will leave town in first place no matter what, but there are four potential outcomes after Thursday:

  • White Sox sweep: 1 GB, own tiebreaker
  • White Sox win 2/3: 3 GB, effectively 4 GB
  • White Sox win 1/3: 5 GB, effectively 6 GB
  • Cleveland sweeps: 7 GB, effectively 8 GB

In the first environment, the White Sox only have to be one game better than Cleveland over the final 12. Anything less requires the Guardians to crap the bed over the season’s final fortnight; the White Sox going 8-4 while the Guardians go 4-8 is the best-case scenario. Considering Cleveland ends the season with six straight at home against the Kansas City Royals, there are more worthwhile uses for prayers.


Kopech might have another appearance or a few more innings to add to his season line, but the improbability of postseason baseball has me closing the book on his impact, even if the topic will remain an open question into the offseason.

In the P.O. Sox mailbag, Asinwreck asked such questions:

Did the White Sox mishandle Michael Kopech? What’s the best plan forward with him?

My first instinct was to answer the first part of the question with a “no,” saying that everybody involved probably did a terrific job of toughing through some physical hardships to get to 119 innings of helpful pitching. But that requires sealing off Kopech from the bizarre injury management elsewhere on the roster. The White Sox pushed several players through weeks on the MLB roster when they were physically unready to contribute. Maybe Kopech should’ve taken 3-4 weeks off when his knee popped in early June, rather than skipping only one start and pitching as less than his best self for the rest of the way.

Even if you don’t give the White Sox the benefit of the doubt, there’s still an argument for holding their handling of Kopech as an exception. Unlike Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada, Luis Robert and others, Kopech was able to provide average-or-better production despite any shortcomings in condition. Also, after missing the entirety of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, you could argue that Kopech simply needed to pitch as much as his body would allow, if only for the value of knowing.

The standard road map for integrating Kopech into a contender more or less evaporated after he opted out of the 2020 season. Maybe they could have allowed him to step back and start 2021 in Charlotte’s rotation, but that wouldn’t have been a safer route. Maybe he wears down after 100-plus innings and is unable to help the White Sox for a postseason push. Maybe he gets hurt and the Sox can’t use any of his bullets.

Given all the uncertainty — and given the way Kopech lost his slider halfway through this season and his ability to generate strikeouts disappeared on him — the 25 starts and 119 innings of above-average pitching looks like an above-average outcome. He more or less met the projections in terms of run-prevention, and over a greater number of innings.

StatsGIPHHRBBKERA
Actual25119.18515571053.54
ZiPS3476.76210361033.76
PECOTA301037614401282.97
BJH5075629301073.40

Kopech’s current game reminds of the situation Reynaldo López found himself in entering the 2021 season. The fastball had been trustworthy for so long, but without a threatening secondary pitch, it made it harder for him to absorb any fall-off in life or location. He’d also suffered shoulder issues the year before, although it turned out that his vision was his biggest physical issue.

Over the course of about 10 baseball months and an offseason in between, López was able to restore his entire game, and the shift to relief gave him an opportunity to set aside his other secondary pitches and focus solely on reinvigorating his slider. It’s not a dynamite pitch, but it commands a newfound respect from hitters.

Unlike López, Kopech has not yet failed as a starter. This season was fine, especially considering that Davis Martin ended up being the only viable backup plan in the minors. There’s reason to let him keep plugging away, with the hope that his body better understands the grind, and he understands how to maintain a more complete arsenal even as fatigue sets in. He’s probably better in the bullpen, and if another team sees starting upside and wants to pay for it, the Sox should hear them out. If every team is as skeptical, then they may as well continue following López path by giving him a fifth starter’s set of expectations. If he somehow lives beneath that lower bar, there’s always room in relief.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
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.

Articles: 3792
41 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
knoxfire30

I dont see any issue with what kopech is, he will remain a starter, next year the kid gloves can come off and hopefully he gets into the 160-170 inning range.

Kopech hasnt struggled anywhere close to enough to mess with him back in the pen, and with 2023 already having a rotation hole (cueto) and 2024 2 holes (giolito, lynn) there is no path forward for the sox not to exhaust their options with him as a starter.

Right Size Wrong Shape

I know the article is about Kopech, but I wonder if Lopez gets a shot at the 5th starter role next season. I believe it’s the last year of his contract, and he has said that he still wants to be a starter. I’m assuming Cueto doesn’t come back.

asinwreck

As I thank Jim for such a thoughtful exploration of my question, I wonder if the best way forward for both López and the team is to trade the effective-yet-expensive relievers and end games with the trio of Bummer, Kelly, and López next year. He would be more likely to sustain his velocity in this role, and a sanely-run organization would then reallocate the money Hendriks and Graveman made to improving an everyday position or two.

Foulkelore

Or, and hear me out here, they could spend that money on more relievers.

texag10

I prefer option C. Keep everyone and buy even more relievers in free agency.

yinkadoubledare

the new Rick Hahn x Matt Millen collab no one has been clamoring for

Papa Giorgio

You all see more money being spent on relievers as diminishing returns.

I see Hahn’s 4D chess and see a point to where there’s no relievers left for the other teams because they’re all on the Sox roster.

GrinnellSteve

I played Power Grid on Saturday. There can be a real advantage to cornering the market on a particular scarce resource and preventing an opponent from powering up one of his plants at a critical time.

You can’t hoard beyond 1 turn, so it’s hard to get to that point, but I’ve seen it happen.

asinwreck

Lamar Hunt is dead, but perhaps one of his children can buy the White Sox and fund Hahn’s bottomless appetite for relievers. Hey, the Hunts had success with the Chiefs despite their ill-fated attempts to corner the silver market.

huisj

Indeed! That would force the other teams to call up youngsters to pitch in pressure relief situations where they’d surely fail . . . wait, what? Other teams develop in-house relievers who get guys out? Throw hard? Throw strikes? And they’re cheap? Blasphemy.

roke1960

That’s actually a very good idea. We should also have Crochet back by mid-season, and Lambert is pretty darn good in the 6th-7th inning role. They just really need to add a quality defender, solid LH bat to play one of the corner outfield spots. Or better yet, add 2.

ParisSox

Cease, Lynn, Cueto. Sly devils.

As Cirensica

I honestly feel this is like a playoff series. CLC should watch the 2005 pitching performance in the WS for inspiration. Complete games all around, and sweep.

joewho112

The complete games were in the ALCS

joewho112

I just looked back on it. Even in the 1 games that wasn’t a complete game, the bullpen only cover 2 outs.

As Cirensica

Oh boy…memory fart.

ForsterFTOG

Average fastball.
Good breaking stuff.
Occasional control issues.
Seem to have issues focusing sometimes.
Frequently injured.
Back end starter.

Right Size Wrong Shape

What was your scouting report on Cease after his first year of starting?

soxfan

I remember thinking, “he’s not bad, he’s just not enjoyable to watch.” Too many pitches, limited ability to put guys away, worked slow, always left a lot up to the bullpen.

Kopech has some of those issues but not nearly to the same extent as Cease did early on.

As Cirensica

2 years ago I said Cease will win a Cy Young first than Giolito. Some laughed.

roke1960

Where are those who wanted the Sox to trade Cease instead of Dunning?

a-t

Nothing remotely average about the Kopech fastball. It has crazy rise, which is why it’s tough to square up even when the velo is down

Alfornia Jones

Kopech’s year is a huge success, it sucks we lost a couple years on his tommy john. 70% increase in IP’s, pretty decent numbers overall. He’s primed to make a Cease jump next year. He’s a front line pitcher. Rotation is in good shape for next year.

soxfan

I don’t know that I’d say front line pitcher, but he’s definitely a starting pitcher. We have four relievers with 1-1.3 WAR – maybe one of them makes it to 1.5. Kopech is already at 2.2. To go back to Jim’s comparisons of Edwin Jackson and Joe Nathan, Nathan might be a HOF reliever but we never got a chance to see what Jackson could do in that role because a middling starter is more valuable than an all-star closer. Kopech might never be more than a middle to back of rotation starter but that’s still better than being a high-leverage reliever.

roke1960

Kopech, like Cease a few years ago, has top of the rotation stuff. Once he gets another year under his belt, he will be #2 to Cease at #1.

Greg Nix

Kopech and Martin combining for 180ish inning of mid-3’s ERA is like a 90th percentile outcome for the 5th spot in a rotation. Too bad Giolito ended up at like a 20th percentile outcome for the 2nd spot.

soxfan

Yep – I’ve said it before but for all of the microscopic dissection of Reinsdorf’ loyalty, La Russa’s naps, and Hahn’s predilection for signing overpriced relievers, the underperformance this season can really be traced back to four guys – Grandal, Giolito, Moncada, and Lynn. Granted part of their underperformance is their handling (especially in the case of Grandal and Moncada) and the lack of depth behind them that made them look like viable options so the org isn’t completely off the hook, but even underwhelming but not disastrous seasons for those four guys would net another 10 WAR or so and you could argue they left a collective 15-20 on the table.

As Cirensica

I think Kopech will be a very decent 2-3 type starter next year. Having said that, I do not think it would be a bad idea to sign for 1 year to Cueto.

GrinnellSteve

Even at his age, would Cueto settle for 1 year? And if he would, would he have any desire to come back to the Sox? My guess is he has been appalled at the dysfunction of this team and would welcome any chance to sign with a more professional contending organization.

I’d love to have Johnny back for 1 year.

texag10

Cueto seems like exactly the kind of signing that will blow up in our face immediately. The problem is we don’t really have any internal options banging down the door this year so why not.

GrinnellSteve

But a 1-year deal with someone who has had success with this team this year (as opposed to someone who had success with another team and for whom the Sox don’t understand how to extract that success again) shouldn’t be a terrible risk.

phillyd

I would rather they go out and get a star on a multi-year deal. Man it sucks that we already know it will not happen.

a-t

It’s an okayish but not def crazy SP market this year. Rodon will be the main attraction. Next year’s is a lot better tho thh

phillyd

I’d take deGrom, injury risks and all.

charlie

Will they fear having too much egg on their face to make a play for Rodon?
Don’t let that stop you guys. Go get him!

As Cirensica

The White Sox are likely going to be on a tight budget in 2023. I highly doubt we will be signing any stars.

phillyd

All evidence suggests they wouldn’t be buying stars anyway, and that tight budget is self imposed. Nothing stopping them from spending a ton of money other than themselves.

As Cirensica

I just don’t know how much money will be left after Hahn signs 3 or 4 more relievers.

As Cirensica

Cueto had a successful season last year and he couldn’t find a 1 year contract. I can see that happening again in 2023.

metasox

Sox fans may be overestimating his value a bit. The components are a little different, but a 3.95 FIP this season compared to 4.05 last suggests he isn’t a markedly different pitcher. Though this season gives him another year of health to build on. He may be best off with a strong defense behind him given the lack of Ks

shaggy65

I keep thinking about how Kopech gets stronger as the game goes on. That tells me he’s a starter