Michael Kopech stars in White Sox rotation’s rock-solid run

White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech
(Photo by Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Kopech made a very specific kind of White Sox history on Wednesday afternoon with his seven dominant innings against the Guardians. Don’t worry, you won’t be quizzed on all the criteria.

What’s more remarkable is that he’s largely done it with his fastball. He threw it 70 percent of the time in his near-perfect performance against the Royals last Friday, and two-thirds of the time against Cleveland on Wednesday. His other offerings are present and accounted for — the slider and changeup are sharing second-pitch duties — but as James Fegan put it, they both exist to serve the fastball.

The recipe seems a little too straightforward to hold up against better offenses, and there aren’t a lot of comps. Seattle rookie Bryce Miller is doing the exact same thing during his dynamite first month, but three of his five starts have come against the Tigers and A’s, while the Braves handed him his only loss.

Still, now that Kopech stopped feeling around for a release point and has switched to fire-bombing the strike zone, it’ll actually be fun to see him try. I want to see how this approach works against a team like the Angels, and I want to see where he goes if the returns ever stop diminishing. It’s a plan without a whole lot of moving parts, but it’s an actual plan.

Besides being individually meritorious, Kopech has played his part in an impressive 11-game stretch by White Sox starters. Ever since Kopech walked six batters over 4⅔ innings against the Astros on May 12, every pitcher has turned in starts that are, at worst, reasonably effective. That even includes Pedro Grifol’s first dalliance with an opener, as Jimmy Lambert and Jesse Scholtens handled six innings between them on Monday against Cleveland while filling in for Mike Clevinger.

PitcherDateIPHR/ERHRBBK
Dylan CeaseMay 13640/0025
Lucas GiolitoMay 14674/4106
Lance LynnMay 16773/1007
Mike ClevingerMay 17662/2145
Dylan CeaseMay 186.153/3113
Michael KopechMay 19810/00010
Lucas GiolitoMay 20661/1114
Lance LynnMay 21642/2126
Jimse LamboltensMay 22631/1031
Dylan CeaseMay 23652/2123
Michael KopechMay 24720/0019
Total70.15018/1661659

That’s a 2.04 ERA, and there’s little room for complaint. Sure, there might be qualms about the strikeout rate, particularly during Cease’s outings, but the Sox are averaging 14.5 pitches per inning over this stretch, compared to 18 over their first 40 starts of the season. That’s about four fewer batters over the course of six innings, or four fewer chances to record a K. The Sox will happily make that trade-off every time.

It’s also exceptionally timed, because the White Sox have gone 8-3 while averaging only four runs a game. The offense isn’t providing much room for error, but great artists turn constraints into inspiration.

Much like Kopech, the White Sox have stumbled upon a rather simple formula for success, at least within the AL Central. They have the division’s most stable five-man rotation, and when it’s leveraged properly, it gives them a better-than-average chance to win just about every day. When you look at this run, it makes last month’s 10-game losing streak seem mathematically impossible. Then again, the White Sox broke a lot of things in April.

As long as the Sox have their original five starters functioning — or at least missing a minimal amount of time — they should be able to correct that math. That caveat just happens to be a real meaty one, and with Davis Martin unable to provide reinforcement due to Tommy John surgery, the Jenga tower got a little more top-heavy. Hopefully Grifol will continue to practice deploying the opener while Clevinger is out, because while the rest of the rotation is making it easy to go on auto-pilot over the first two-thirds of the game, it’ll only take normal injury luck to make improvising a large part of his future.

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HallofFrank

Gavin Sheets for Cal Quantrill. Who says no?

jorgefabregas

I think the Guardians. They don’t have need for Sheets with Naylor and Bell. And a 4th starter is generally more valuable than a marginal 1B/DH.

HallofFrank

Maybe generally but probably not to the Guardians. The Guardians churn out #3 starters better than anyone and their offense is a disaster. The A’s have a better offense than the Guardians. Jose Ramirez is the only player on the roster with a wRC+ over 100. Bell and Naylor are at 95 and 79, respectively. Sheets would be their 2nd best hitter.

jorgefabregas

I think the projections are better estimates of hitter quality than the third of the season or whatever so far. Additionally, both of those guys have better xwOBAs than Sheets.

HallofFrank

Fair enough. I don’t think Sheets is actually better than Bell but he’s probably better than Naylor. Either way, the Guardians could play Sheets in RF. As Sox fans know, that’s not ideal. But, put simply, that team needs something offensively and now.

Weino17

If we could somehow get an adequate starter in a deal with Sheets that would be amazing.
Btw..Naylor blows Sheets away

HallofFrank

Naylor blows Sheets away at what? They’re both generally terrible defenders. Sheets has better career wRC, wOBA, OPS, etc. And Sheets has been much better this season.

NDSox12

My natural inclination was that Naylor >> Sheets. But after looking at the numbers, you are right. I think Sox fans have a distorted view of Naylor because he has been much better against the Sox than everyone else (.880 OPS vs Sox and .722 for his career).

Last edited 11 months ago by NDSox12
HallofFrank

I had the same experience. Naylor is a Sox killer.

Weino17

Naylor’s got 32 RBI in 42 games. 79 last year in 122 games.

Joliet Orange Sox

This year Naylor has 32 rbi as you state. He’s come up with runners in scoring position 54 times this year and has a good ops of 0.817 in those 54 plate appearances.

This year Sheets has 17 rbi. He’s come up with runners in scoring position 32 times this year and has a great ops of 1.165 in those 32 plate appearances.

I’m not convinced by these numbers that Naylor blows Sheets away.

Naylor’s advantage in rbi this year is mostly because of him coming to the plate more often with RISP which may be more a result of batting behind José Ramírez than anything Naylor controls.

burning-phoneix

Yeah, the Guardians churn out great pitchers but most of the league doesn’t. Supply and demand dictates a Number 3 starter with two more arb years left is gonna be worth more than a 1B/DH type player.

HallofFrank

“Number 3 starter” is generous to Quantrill. He’s owed $5.5m this year with a 5.00 FIP. With an arb bump to $8m+, it wouldn’t shock me if the stingy Guardians considered him a non-tender candidate. Meanwhile, Sheets is owed $700k, controlled through ’28, and is hitting better than anyone on their team not named Jose Ramirez.

Quantrill has a longer track record, so maybe the Sox need to kick in a little more. But I don’t think this is terribly too far off in terms of value.

Weino17

Hello Steven Kwan.
Is Sheets better than him too?

Right Size Wrong Shape

If he were allowed to play 1B he would be.

Weino17

Until he’s not.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Oh.

Weino17

A more relevant response could have been ‘touche’.

Right Size Wrong Shape

That would imply that you had made a relevant point.

Weino17

Too bad you don’t seem to get my touche reference.

Holland23

Mike Chernoff: We don’t need a First Baseman.
Rick Hahn: Sheets is a Right Fielder.

gibby32

That deal may not work, but a deal that includes Sheets, and/or maybe Burger, for a functional starter is the right focus.

JazznFunk

If Hendricks could come back healthy, I wonder if the Sox would consider moving someone from the bullpen as well

As Cirensica

To get what exactly? A starting pitcher? I highly doubt it. Trading Burger or Sheets for a functional starting pitcher makes sense now, but maybe not later because whatever SP we can get for those two, will be surely left out any potential playoff roster.

HallofFrank

Yeah, Grifol would really have some trouble without Sheets on the roster ideas he’s texting Hahn from his couch in October.

Joliet Orange Sox

I would’ve called the two-headed monster Jesmy Scholbert. Yet again, Jim shows why he’s in charge around here.

Papa Giorgio

Jimse Scholbert

Joliet Orange Sox

I think Jesmy Scholbert is just ordering them by innings pitched which seems ok to me. @Papa Giorgio’s suggestion with one guy first in the first name and the other guy first in the surname is a violation of the international laws of name portmanteaus.

As Cirensica

Now I will call any emergency starter or opener, the Scholbert.

Papa Giorgio

I will make it legal

MasGarcias

The chosen name sounds so exotic. Something a Michelin Chef would serve.

BenwithVen

I could be wrong, but it feels like they’re following the Spencer Strider plan with Kopech. Meaning the slider and change are there to primarily serve a dynamite fastball. Fingers crossed that they see similar results.

a-t

His fastball metrics are pretty close to Strider’s, too. It’s a 70, maybe 80 grade fastball.

As Cirensica

they’re following the Spencer Strider plan

If only…The White Sox don’t plan things. They only cross bridges.

BenwithVen

I have no idea what this means

upnorthsox

Nor do they, but they’ll cross that bridge when they come to it.

As Cirensica

This^

BenwithVen

….ok

GrinnellSteve

As Ted Kennedy once said, per National Lampoon, “I’ll drive off that bridge when I come to it.”

Wayne

I prefer, “I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it”.

roke1960

Starting pitchers going at least 6 innings and a deep bullpen. The perfect recipe for sustained success. Now they need the offense to regain consistency. That starts with getting TA healthy. He is the catalyst. Benintendi has been pretty effective in the 2-spot lately. Following those two with Robert, Eloy and Yoan in the 3-5 spots, then a combo of Grandal, Vaughn, Sheets, Burger, Frazier in the 6-8 spots. I don’t think I would trade anybody yet out of the offense. Then an injury or two would put them right back in a lack of depth situation. The key is going to be keeping the top 4 in the rotation healthy and the top 5 hitters healthy. They need to be near .500 by the end of June. Then things can start to get serious. Don’t stop now boys!

brianp88

“Jimse Lamboltens”. Must be Scandinavian.

King Joffrey

I’m having Jim Otten and Rodney Bolton flashbacks.

a-t

Correa’s got plantar fasciitis and is out probably 6-8 weeks. This sad-sack division is there for the taking.

As Cirensica

He wasn’t doing much anyways, but yikes!

upnorthsox

I think Royce Lewis is about ready to come off the IL so it could be fortuitous. We’ll see I guess, but as you say Correa was doing nothing for them.

ForsterFTOG

Makes me wonder how many players have been worth their mega contracts.

lifelongjd

The lack of development of pitching in this organization is appalling. Lambert and Crochet are the only home grown players making contributions to this team. To not have any options (Martin’s injury aside) to provide 4-5 starts to fill in for injury at this point of a rebuild is just ridiculous.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Just because Cease and Kopech weren’t drafted by the Sox doesn’t mean they weren’t homegrown. They worked their way through most of the minor league system. Also forgetting Bummer.

a-t

The bullpen has an ERA of 1.10 over that stretch, too. As Crochet acclimates (and I like that Grifol has been quick on hooks for him) and Hendriks comes back, this will be a top-5 bullpen in baseball. It’s the strongest unit of this team with Santos and Middleton emerging and Joe Kelly now utterly lethal.

As Cirensica

I thought he was doing OK.

That’s gonna hurt his 3,000 hits milestone chances.

yinkadoubledare

Codi Heuer is pitching at Iowa right now, Madrigal is being sent there to crash into Heuer on a popup to continue the trade being garbage for all parties involved.

As Cirensica

Our side of the garbage was more expensive.

Right Size Wrong Shape

At least Pollock is sucking for Seattle now instead of the Sox.

shaggy65

His 63 OPS+ would be a major lift for the Sox at 2nd base.