Michael Kopech felt a pop in his right knee back on June 12.
On Aug. 23, he went on the injured list for the first time all season with a strain in his other knee.
On Sept. 17, he went back on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
Ten days later, the White Sox shut him down for the season, but it seemed less about his shoulder and more about his right knee, which Rick Hahn said had a baker’s cyst in need of remediation at some point over the offseason.
And on Friday, the White Sox announced that Kopech had knee surgery, and multiple White Sox reporters confirmed from multiple sources that it was for a meniscus tear.
Kopech’s knee was one of many long-running injuries the White Sox downplayed or pretended to not notice over the course of the 2022 season, along with Tim Anderson’s groin, Luis Robert’s wrist, Leury García’s calf, among others.
The difference with Kopech is that he was reasonably productive in his lesser state. The peripherals after the June knee incident are troubling …
- Before: 51.2 IP, 24 BB, 51 K, 2 HR
- After: 67.2 IP, 33 BB, 54 K, 13 HR
… but his 4.79 ERA over that latter sample, while unimpressive, remained playable in a White Sox rotation that couldn’t really afford to call on Davis Martin or Vince Velasquez more than it did.
Were Kopech an outlier for a team that otherwise responded with conviction to compromised performances on the roster, you could see the worth in pushing him through the discomfort. He entered the year with just 84 MLB innings under his belt despite debuting all the way back in 2018, thanks to Tommy John surgery, his opting out of the 2020 season, and a hamstring strain that cost him all of June in 2021.
In this world where his injury were the only one handled without urgency, it still would’ve been uncomfortable seeing him suffer cascade injuries he didn’t exactly deny …
“It’s hard to say,” Kopech said. “People compensate in different ways. Maybe I have, but if so, I haven’t noticed.”
… but with him turning 27 and entering his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2023, there’d be something to learn by putting him through the paces, even if that lesson was “We really shouldn’t have put him through those paces.” The White Sox gained more from a bumpy 120-inning Kopech season than they would have from a sterling 60-inning Kopech season. Whatever starting pitching shortcomings the White Sox faced mostly stem from Lucas Giolito’s malaise. The Sox would just have to hope that Kopech didn’t suffer any longer-term damage, but given Kopech’s track record, any subsequent injuries might be fresh and inevitable setbacks, rather than consequences from this year’s choices.
However, with Kopech’s roundabout path toward a surgery coming after the Sox had dragged their feet on confronting so many other injuries, it’s hard to separate calculated risk-taking from the leadership vacuum that enabled the 2022 season to suck as much as it did.