After early troubles, Michael Kopech corrects course in 2024 debut

Michael Kopech and Brian Bannister
Michael Kopech and Brian Bannister (James Fegan/Sox Machine)

Because the traditional pitching line doesn’t count hit by pitches, and most spring training lines don’t include pitch counts, Michael Kopech’s 2024 spring debut looks nearly impossible to top: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K.

When you fill in the blank spaces with the relevant information, you can see areas for improvement without feeling unreasonable.

In terms of efficiency, Kopech’s 2024 Cactus League debut could best be described as fishing with dynamite. It does the job if you only have to assert dominance and lay waste, but 45 pitches over two scoreless innings leaves a lot to clean up.

Kopech started his outing by tickling Nick Madrigal’s nose with an up-and-in fastball, then walked Seiya Suzuki to immediately trigger flashbacks of the outings that led the White Sox to shut him down in September. Then he retired the last six he faced on five strikeouts and a weak groundout.

The slider — or actually, a cutter — turned out to be big for him, because he could locate it for strikes and strike-looking balls while he struggled to wrestle his fastball into the zone.

That kind of key was missing during last season, when he walked 28 batters (and plunked two more) over his final 27 innings. After his start,. Kopech said he liked the results of the initial trial:

Kopech sat at 95-96 mph and touched 98 on the scoreboard gun. He said he threw eight cutters and a lot fewer sliders than normal, a new wrinkle in an arsenal that still features the curveball and changeup.

“It’s going to be an important pitch for me,” Kopech said. “It comes out a little bit more firm than my slider does and it plays off my fastball pretty well.”

When Kopech has clicked in the past, a cutter seems like an unnecessary diversion, because his fastball possessive premium explosive qualities that hitters seldom conquer, and putting any other sort of spin on it might be doing them a favor.

Two years of diminishing returns for his established repertoire suggests changes are necessary, and Brian Bannister talked about Kopech’s pursuit of perfect fastball spin taking him out of his natural mechanics, particularly the way he finishes pitches. It stands to reason that the spin and break of the cutter could give him permission to rotate fully through his pitches and correct his delivery.

As an added benefit, it’d be nice to see Kopech have a non-fastball he could trust against lefties. His slider hasn’t been doing the job for him, and while he got away with walking too many lefties in 2022, the dam burst last season:

YearBB% vs. RHBBB% vs. LHB
20229.614.0
202313.717.2

Knowing this, what jumped out to me were the two backwards Ks he recorded against Cubs lefties, which you can see in the video above. He probably should’ve had three, but Korey Lee couldn’t get this 2-2 pitch against Owen Caissie.

Then again, the one that froze Pete Crow-Armstrong was probably high, so it all evens out.

Like any other new pitch, it remains to be seen if this will be more than a spring fling, but it was nice to see the immediate reason for the experiment. Kopech needs a pitch that can be thrown for strikes when his fastball isn’t that pitch for him, and even though the cutter just got here, such is the state of his game that the new offering stands as good a chance as anything else.

Touki Toussaint relapsed

He didn’t mean to, but Touki Toussaint inadvertently served as a realistic simulation for the version of Kopech that never finds his control. Toussaint only retired one of the eight batters he faced, even though he had the opportunity to start two separate innings.

Like Kopech, he started his afternoon by putting the first two batters on (two walks). It just never got better. A wild pitch put both runners into scoring position; Yan Gomes scored one with a single, and Miles Mastrobuoni brought home the other one with a sac fly.

That turned out to be Toussaint’s only out. He walked Matt Shaw, and Pedro Grifol took the ball from him for the first time. When the sixth inning rolled around, Grifol used the lax spring rules to let Toussaint start the sixth, the reset button offered no relief. Madrigal greeted him with a single, and two more walks later, Toussaint’s day was done. For real, this time.

Toussaint’s final line: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 0 K. That’s good for a 108 ERA, and #108ing is better left to the fans in the stands. Given Toussaint’s satisfactory performance last year and his lack of options, he should get opportunities to dig himself out of this hole, but his spot isn’t so secure that he can so freely remind people why the White Sox were able to claim him on waivers in the first place.

Pedro Grifol relapsed

While Pedro Grifol gave me plenty of material for my “Year in Quotes” series, I didn’t even use half of the lines in the arsenal before the exercise felt like belaboring the point.

Basically, Grifol talked himself into a lot of corners, and when it came time to correct course, he was limited to 1) immediately contradicting himself and hoping nobody would notice, or 2) never correcting course. By the second half of the season, it took less and less time to detect which proclamations would become regrettable in short order.

It’s a new year, and still, Grifol is doing himself no favors:

Yoán Moncada is batting .400 in spring training.

He’s expressed to Pedro Grifol that he’d like to bat second this season. Pedro said he told Moncada this:

“That’s a selfless spot in the order. You have to give yourself up. Not a lot, but some. You have to take pitches, move guys over. You might have to bunt, hit and run and he’s all-in on that.

“With your main guys, I don’t like interrupting the rhythm of the lineup. So what does that mean? You’ve got to play. You’ve got to give us games. He knows it. He wants it. He just has to go take it. I’m not going to hand it to him.”

Two fun facts about Pedro Grifol’s No. 2 hitters last season:

  1. The White Sox had the least productive second spot in baseball last year.
  2. The White Sox did not have one sac bunt from the second spot last year.

To be clear, the second point isn’t a complaint about Grifol’s tactics. It just makes it harder to understand what he’s on about. Grifol is neither describing a job as it’s performed in Major League Baseball in 2024, nor even the job he asked No. 2 hitters to perform for the White Sox. In fact, he didn’t seem to give the position any thought last year, instead using it as a place for MLB’s least productive regular to lay his head.

The most charitable interpretation is that Grifol was feeling around for a fair, credible rebuttal to Moncada’s request, because he actually found one after a few sentences. If Moncada wants dibs on a valued spot in the lineup, he actually has to stay healthy and dynamic enough to be good for it. That’s bulletproof reasoning.

Grifol just didn’t earn any such benefit of the doubt because random applications of inconsistent standards were an early trademark, and when you combine it with his penchant for over-flattering his bosses, you see an approach that’s entirely designed around self-preservation. Early last spring training, Grifol repeatedly stressed focus on the next 7 to 10 days. There’s value in emphasizing the task at hand, but words, and the messages, visions and philosophies they represent, are supposed to be shelf-stable for a lot longer than that.

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knoxfire30

Its early, its early, its just spring, its just spring and I will keep reminding myself of that … but 4 guys Crochet, Kopech, Jiminez, Moncada, being “healthy” and being very productive would certainly go a very long way in taking a very bad team and making them have a small chance… i’ll remain firmly in the I will believe it when I see it camp on basically all of them but early spring returns can at least give some resemblance of hope.

ForsterFTOG

Unfortunately, even if these four were studs the rest of the roster is reminiscent of the ’62 Mets.

ParisSox

Spring Training is all about hope.

Foulkelore

Here are some of the no. 2 hitters for the final 8 teams in the playoffs last year, their 2023 wRC+, and amount of sacrifice bunts each had during the entire regular season:

Rutschman (127 wRC+, 0 SH)
Seager (169 wRC+, 0 SH)
Bregman (125 wRC+, 0 SH)
Polanco (118 wRC+, 0 SH)
Freeman (163 wRC+, 0 SH)
Ketel Marte (127 wRC+, 0 SH)
Albies (124 wRC+, 0 SH)
Turner (108 wRC+, 0 SH)

So, most successful teams want to bat a very good hitter second and not have them bunt. I’m sure Pedro’s onto something here.

knoxfire30

Bat Lou Bob 2nd maybe? Something like…

Benintendi L
Robert R
Jiminez R
Moncada S
Vaughn R
Fletcher L

Foulkelore

That works. I’m actually fine with Moncada batting second when he’s healthy too. I don’t dislike that part. It’s all of the other crap Pedro thinks a modern no. 2 hitter needs to do.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Moncada S
Jiminez R
Robert R

After that it doesn’t really matter because they are all bad.

John

Jury’s still out on Fletcher. He gets on base well enough that he could be a viable option there as well. If Moncada is healthy and focused, i.e., hitting largely like he ended last year, he’s the best candidate. If AB has another bad year, he should sink in the order, though, regardless of whether he has the biggest FA deal in Sox history.

PauliePaulie

Moncada 2 vs. RHP. Lou Bob Jr 2 vs LHP is what I’d been hoping to see before Moncada’s bat went south.

Weino17

And it will go south again. Especially when it’s needed most.

bikeman

mike trout has 0 sacrifice hits aka bunts in his whole career batting 2nd (or anywhere else, for that matter).

upnorthsox

O’s #2 OBP .374
Rangers #2 OBP .370
Astros #2 OBP .366
Twins #2 OBP .340
Dodgers #2 OBP .408
Dbacks #2 OBP .345
Braves #2 OBP .344
Brewers #2 OBP .347
.
.
.
Sox #2 OBP .290

So yeah if Moncada wants to get his OBP back up to .375 we could really use him hitting #2.

Billy Pierce

Best shape ever! Head in good place too:

Along with being in top-notch physical condition, Kopech is in a good mental place and primed for a big ‘24 season.“I’m fortunate to have four little ones. Beautiful wife … and I’m in a pretty good head space,” Kopech said. “We have an opportunity to do something pretty special with this club as far as changing things around and I think that’s already happened.”

https://www.mlb.com/news/michael-kopech-strikes-out-five-in-spring-debut?game_pk=748153

burning-phoneix

Kopech’s 27! When did he have a chance to get four kids?

My understanding is that professional athletes have lots of opportunities to “get kids”.

Warren Z

I am very encouraged by Kopech’s overall outing yesterday, and I don’t care where Moncada hits in the lineup, as long as he is available and productive.

With so many players being in camp and so much uncertainty about whether some guys will be on the roster once opening day arrives, Pedro’s vagueness on certain issues can be excused. Let’s play some more spring training games to see exactly where some guys might fit best in the lineup.

RayHerbert

Kopech’s strikeouts reminded me of his first outings for the Sox.

jorgefabregas

Today’s game is on a Rangers webcast https://www.mlb.com/rangers

Joliet Orange Sox

Very informative Rangers broadcast. Apparently, the Sox have Danny Mindick batting 9th today which is two batters after Dominic Fletcher who was the Sox 2nd round draft pick in 2019.

Billy Pierce

Oops, sorry, I didn’t see your post.

aseballnut

Down 6 runs, but the defense is better and the atmosphere in the locker room has improved.

I know it’s early.

FishSox

I would caution stating locker room improvement… It may just be locker room ignorance…

PauliePaulie

Pedro Grifol talking about the 2 spot like it’s 1986.
Wasn’t this guy supposed to be the infusion of modern statistical analysis the Sox needed?
Shows what getting the data guy from a team with no data dept really means.

As Cirensica

Speaking of Grifol gifting quotable ‘wisdom’

Once again, Pedro’s uncanny speech strikes again. He really loves to talk about things that can’t be seen, or can’t be measured. What a charlatan. I truly cannot srand Pedro’s buffoonery, and I cannot wait until he is gone.

Last edited 1 month ago by As Cirensica
aseballnut

He talks a lot of shit for someone who has accomplished nothing and has failed miserably at his job.

It scares me to think that they may bring this clown back in 2025.

gibby32

Nothing scares me anymore. I will just assume that everything will suck until it doesn’t.

aseballnut

I think I will follow your lead.

FishSox

Smart bettors never bet against the terms.

Jeffrey

If I were the manager of a team that had lost 101 games in my first year on the job, I would shut up until I had some actual accomplishments to talk about. But to each his own.

Billy Pierce

Pedro said he told Moncada this: … I don’t like interrupting the rhythm of the lineup.

rhythm?

yinkadoubledare

The slow drumbeat of a funeral march is a kind of rhythm

Matt Verplaetse

Colas in a spring game at 1B is slightly interesting. If he can play passable defense there, I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a roster spot over the likes of Sheets and Moustakas.

As Cirensica

This game somehow had a RF playing 1B (Colas), and a 1B playing RF (Sheets)! 🤪 Pedro is a genius or what?

upnorthsox

Cease and Nastrini did a nice job of bookending today with 2 scoreless innings each. Too bad the middle was a lot of yick, though Tim Hill did have a good 1 IP.

Pedro does do a good job of letting his pitchers get pummeled mercilessly, I wonder how long Getz will let him do it.

So far, this spring has not been good for the old guys and the guys I’ve never heard of before.

FishSox

“So far, this spring has not been good for the old guys and the guys I’ve never heard of before.”

Not too worry, the rest will catch up soon.

Last edited 1 month ago by FishSox