The Michael Kopech Plan
As the #108Tourney blazes away like an uncontrolled 3 alarm fire, I thought it was time to start turning my note pad scribbles into actual White Sox blog posts. One of the more interesting turn of events this spring with the White Sox is the expected usage of Michael Kopech. Michael opted out of the 2020 season. His reasons for opting out are both not fully explained and immaterial to this analysis. Michael was coming off of a 2019 season that he missed entirely due to Tommy John surgery.
I was at the game in 2018 in which the injury was sustained. Daniel Palka threw me a ball in the stands after a significant rain delay. MySoxSummer and I tried to record the sound of the Tigers bullpen catchers glove, which sounded like a fart (unsuccessfully) and we drank a lot of beer. So, it was a bad night, with a few low key highlights.
Most of the White Sox fan world was under the impression that the powers that be would send Mr. Kopech back to Charlotte to start the 2021 season to “build up his arm”. This would have him joining the club later in the season, sort of as needed as a starting pitcher. This made sense, materially to the mob, so while it was questioned some, we had all made peace with it. Then come 2021 Spring Training, that plan was dropped on it’s ear. Tony LaRussa noted that Michael Kopech would start the year in the bullpen.
I have to be honest, I didn’t see that one coming. However, this is a bit of a relief (pun intended) to see the White Sox just going with their best 26 (assuming they do that). There is only one little problem and my man’s Chorizy outlined it in this blog, the White Sox really hurt their starting pitching depth with this move. OR DO THEY?
One of the loudest whispers around right now is that the White Sox will bring Michael Kopech straight to Chicago in a relief capacity with the intention of still building his arm up for future starting. They don’t want to waste any of those precious bullets on future insurance salesmen in Charlotte. I can’t blame them. But what would that look like exactly? How do you sort of work a guy in as a relief guy with the plan to probably use him as a starter later in the season? I went to the past and found a guy and a team who ALLEGEDLY brought up their starting pitchers through the bullpen.
Earl Weaver and the 1970’s Baltimore Orioles
Dats right, Earl Weaver and the 1970’s Baltimore Orioles. Weaver has said (among other things) that he likes to bring up starting pitchers through the bullpen. It’s even stated right here on page 76 in this book.
So, I decided to dig in and see if I could find some examples…..
Doyle Alexander 1972
The first pitcher I took a look at that appeared to have a smattering of starts and relief appearances in the same season was Doyle Alexander. He was 21 in 1972. I started digging into his game logs, but early in the 1972 season I saw a usage pattern that I seriously doubt Tony La Russa will emulate.
I don’t suspect we’ll see an April outing for Michael Kopech where he goes 8 2/3 inning in relief. Scratch that one. Let’s try another one.
Mike Flanagan 1976
I thought maybe our next attempt should be a Mike Flanagan’s 1976 season. He was 24 and threw 85 1/3 IP….maybe this is more or less what a 2021 Michael Kopech’s usage will look like????
Wild, starts off with 6 2/3 in relief, then a full 2 weeks off before throwing 2/3 of an inning. Periods of not pitching for 2 weeks or even a month at a time. Then throwing 3 complete games in September. Once again, I think I have come up with nothing. Let’s try one more!
Dennis Martinez 1977 (El Presidente)
The following game log would be considered pitcher abuse in the lord’s year of 2021
Pitch everyday for awhile, then become a starter that goes every 4 days and throw 9 or 10 innings each time. I know Tony La Russa is old school, but I don’t suspect any of these Earl Weaver hurlers usage patterns will be a close facsimile of what Mr. Kopech will adhere to in 2021. Before I provide my plan. Let’s look at his early spring training usage.
The Michael Kopech Plan
So far this spring, Michael has been used sparingly and a bit space out for a high leverage reliever, receiving 6 days rest and then 3 days rest. I don’t have his total pitch counts here, only his innings, so it appears that they are starting to stretch him some, letting him go 2 innings on March 18th vs Kansas City.
That’s kinda what I am thinking might be the modus operandi with Mr. Kopech. Work him on a starters cadence and build him up as the year goes along. I think I’d have him ready to go, hovering over the 4th and 5th starters in the White Sox rotation. As we sit here on March 22nd, that is Dylan Cease in the 4th spot and Carlos Rodon in the 5th spot. Those are the two days out of every five that I’d let Michael know I might possibly use him. The reasons are pretty straightforward. These are the two pitchers most likely to exit the game early, either due to ineffectiveness or pitch count. Below is a chart, where I attempt to show what something like this might look like.
For arguments sake, I assume the White Sox have the tall righty schedule for roughly 100 innings in the regular season and 15 in the playoffs. This schedule maps out basically every fifth day, the opponent and approximately how much usage you might choose for Michael. Now, this schedule is far too neat for actual use. You could find more opportunities to use him and mostly they won’t be this regular. Sometimes it might be 1 1/3 innings and another night you might need 3 innings from him, but you get the idea. If Cease has a rough outing ahead of Rodon, you could use Kopech that night and he’s skip over his scheduled fifth day outing per this schedule. However, on this chart, after the all-star break, I make Kopech a starter with a regular turn, even if he is going less innings than a normal starter.
I know, there are probably people at home saying, you don’t just wreck the rotation to put Kopech in there. All I have to say is, SHIT HAPPENS! If by some fucking miracle, this rotation is not only effective, but unimpeded by injuries by mid-July, Salud! What is more likely is that someone in this starting five, at a minimum needs to skip a start or two. If you ended up not needing the FULL KOPECH, you don’t have to use it, but I am going to hazard a guess we’ll need it somewhere around that time.
Regardless, this plan leaves you the optionality of using Kopech as a starter if/when you need it. It feels like the White Sox should set themselves up with some contingency plan like this in case shit goes sideways.
Oh and before I go, I need to leave you with a few more thoughts from Earl Weaver, about a guy you know well.
Not sure if you have heard but we BROADCAST the podcast LIVE on our YouTube Channel! We even take questions! Make sure you subscribe for alerts when we go live.