Johnny Cueto giving White Sox what Carlos Rodón had; Michael Kopech is missing it

Johnny Cueto hasn’t been every bit as good as Carlos Rodón, and Rodón really drove home the point on Saturday night. After Cueto went out and threw eight tidy shutout innings against the Tigers, Rodón went and threw his first complete game since his no-hitter, striking out 12 Padres while hitting 98 in the ninth inning.

Qualifiers are needed to equate the two, and I’ll offer one: Cueto has been every bit as good as Rodón when accounting for the fact that both were $3 million signings, or thereabouts (Cueto’s was a prorated $4.2 million deal). At that level for a starting pitcher — Vince Velasquez money, in other words — I think there’s a ceiling for judging quality before excellence becomes overkill. As in, “I get it, I get it, you’re underpaid. Enjoy the next bite at the apple.”

Cueto doesn’t quite match Rodón’s firepower from his Cy Young-caliber start to 2021, but he’s delivering more innings per outing, even when accounting for an emergency long relief appearance from which Rodón likely would have been shielded. (I’ve also included Rodón’s current performance with the Giants, and Cueto again compares well in terms of innings per start and general run prevention, even if he requires more help from his defense.)

PitcherYearGIPHHRBBKERA
Rodón20211166.239617971.89
Cueto2021116860918532.91
Rodón202217100744321242.70

The fact that Rodón provided all that 2021 production for $3 million was why I understood the individual impulse to shy away from issuing him the qualifying offer. They might not have liked the odds of him holding up for a repeat season at six times the cost, so they cashed in their winnings.

It just made less sense alongside the decision to exercise Craig Kimbrel’s $16 million option, which tied their hands until late in spring training. In the interim, they resigned themselves to spreading around the savings to a mess of non-impact role players, one of whom was injured.

Maybe they couldn’t have known that Cueto would fill Rodón’s shoes so capably as a bargain starter, but directing resources toward impact players stands a better chance at amplifying a successful signing like Cueto, rather than forcing him to overcome the replacement-level production elsewhere. Despite everything Cueto is giving them, the Sox are only 5-5 in his starts, although that’s yet another way he holds up against Rodón. The Giants are 8-9 when he takes the mound.


Between the high-powered arsenal and an innings limit that’s lower than his peers, Michael Kopech was the White Sox’s original hope of replacing Rodón without losing much of their stride. They were winning that bet over the first two months, but since the knee injury on June 12, he’s been relegated to maintaining improvement over Dallas Keuchel.

He’s 0-4 with a 6.86 ERA in his four starts since the pop, with 23 hits on top of 11 walks against just 17 strikeouts over 21 innings.

He’s lost about a tick off his fastball’s average velocity and some of the ride, but what’s especially absent is his inability to find the higher 90s when he needs it. More than 40 percent of his fastballs were clocked at 95 or better before the knee betrayed him, and nearly a quarter of his pitches cracked 96. Those pitches have dried up on him.

InjuryFB%>=95FB%>=96FB%<=93
Before40.723.74.9
After13.14.310.8

The last column shows that Kopech isn’t spending too much time in the low-90s, so it doesn’t seem like his arm is shot. It is fair to call it less dynamic, and I wonder whether it’s cutting into one of the things that made him special over the first two months.

Going back to Rodón, one of the things that helped transform him into the beast of the last two years was his ability to ramp up his velocity over the course of the game. When he starts at 94 and finishes at 98, it helps diminish any potential pitfalls with the Times Through the Order Penalty because he’s basically acting as his own reliever.

Through early June, Kopech didn’t feature that same slow rise that Rodón developed, but he avoided a significant velocity drop in the back half of his starts. Statcast shows that Kopech threw 23 fastballs 96 or better the third time through the order before the knee injury, but he’s only had one such fastball over his last four starts.

Kopech’s season TTOP stats still turn conventional wisdom on its head …

  • First PA: .210/333/.290 over 126 PA
  • Second PA: .182/.256/.364 over 121 PA
  • Third PA: .122/.229/.342 over 48 PA

… but the third-time-through numbers are buoyed by starting the season holding opponents hitless in their first 29 at-bats. Those numbers were insane and due to regress, but if Kopech’s fastball is flatter toward the end of his outings, they might flip on them in a hurry.

  • Before injury: 0-for-21, 3 BB, 7 K
  • Since injury: 5-for-21, 3 BB, 5 K, 3 HR

Kopech and Tony La Russa spoke vaguely of mechanical issues in need of ironing, and there have been some release point inconsistencies since coming back. Perhaps he can tighten up a slider that’s spun on him as of late, and that’ll take the stress off the fastball issues.

However, if the slider has been relatively unremarkable all year, and the fastball’s immense effectiveness had masked deficiencies elsewhere, then Kopech might be more of a midseason project than the White Sox hoped. Let’s see how these elements progress — or not — when this afternoon’s start against Detroit doubles his July sample size.

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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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Qubort

I hope the Sox trade Cueto, Giolito, Abreu, and Pollack at the trade deadline and then take the off season seriously. I have zero confidence they will because Hahn still has a job. They’ll probably trade Sosa and Montgomery for a hard hitting first baseman and relief help.

dongutteridge

I’m betting that they trade for Joey Gallo.

Yes, the season could have looked much different if the Rodon & Kimbrel decisions had been reversed.

They could have still added Cueto when they did. They also could have signed Tommy Pham for cheap and he would outperform Pollock and be healthier.

NancyFaustsOrgan

That trade is so stupid that they’d jump all over it.

america86

Why would you trade Giolito exactly when he is a cornerstone pitching foundation for this team? And who will you replace for Abreu that gives you even half of the total value he provides??

vince

Will Cueto have trade value at the deadline for a contender?

lifelongjd

One of the main problems is the overall lack of player development the Sox have shown since forever. This leads to a lack of quality organizational depth which leads to them shopping in the discount section of free agents every year. Instead of going after a really good player that is expensive but fills a gap the Sox go out and sign 3-4 players to fill holes the lack of depth creates. This is how you end up with guys like Velazquez, Harrison, Leury instead of say, Semien or Springer. So instead of paying Rodon a fair salary, they declined him and signed these guys in the hopes of filling in gaps.
They just never seem to have replacements or quality depth coming up to take open spots. They’re constantly chasing RF and 2B, which honestly are not difficult positions to fill. It’s just maddening.

dongutteridge

What? The White Sox have “waves of talent”.

soxygen

I have a somewhat heterodox take on the Sox contention window: I think the unexpected success of 2020 kind of screwed things up. As a young team, we should not have expected to be a playoff team in 2020, but the short season and historically easy schedule made that possible. It also created some unrealistic expectations about the future performance of some of the players on the roster who benefitted from facing teams like the Pirates and the Reds instead of facing teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox.

A consequence of the early success of this team in 2020 has been impatience with the performance of some young guys, like Cease and Kopech, who are facing the kinds of challenges that many young pitchers face – building up to a major league starter’s workload, and learning how to economize on pitches to provide meaningful innings that save the bullpen.

This is why I really thought getting a veteran starter would have been a good idea, and why I get that they should trade Keuchel before that house of cards came crumbling down (a house of cards that was in part because about half of his 11 starts in 2020 we’re made against horrible teams).

Qubort

I think the impatience has more to do with glaring holes for years in RF and 2nd base that have yet to be addressed. Impatience that the organization is so dysfunctional that they haven’t conducted a realistic manager hiring process since the 90s. Impatience of being valued at roughly 2 billion and being one of 4 teams never to give out a $100 million contract. Most people seem fine with Kopech and Cease development.

soxygen

Agree with your diagnosis. I simply meant that if the team had played a full season in 2020 against a regular schedule we probably would have finished as a .500 team and Dallas Keuchel could have looked like toast by the end of the season, Giolito might have come back to earth etc…all of which might have really changed the approach to the last couple of offseasons.

For example, this might have led to acquiring some starting pitching either in the form of a guy who could be counted on to provide a lot of innings and stabilize the rotation, or in the form of some depth that could have stepped in to back up Kopech this year as he builds up to a starter work load. We are not getting enough innings from our starters (24th in majors) which is a big part of the problem with our bullpen.

It is hard to know what the team might have done differently as an organization, or how it would have affected fan expectations if the first half of the 2020 and 2021 seasons had been the outliers. Maybe the team doesn’t fire Renteria or hire LaRussa. Maybe the team trades
Keuchel after the 2020 season. Maybe the team acquires another starter instead of all this bullpen tinkering, which is in part cheapness on the part of the front office (agree with you), but the bullpen moves are also the moves of a team that thinks it is really close when maybe it really isn’t…

Anyway, it’s just a thought exercise.

Last edited 29 days ago by soxygen
america86

I made an account simply to say this lol:

What is up with the complaints and/or trade requests of Abreu??
He is remarkably consistent RBI producer, effecient defensively, healthy, and a clubhouse leader.
What player could you trade him for that would even come close to what Abreu provides every game??