With the MLB officially missing games in 2022, I have pledged to write a Going Deep article every day until the lockout is lifted. Please consider supporting Pitcher List with a PL+ subscription to help us survive through these difficult months.
It’s Day 3 of writing about pitchers and I feel fortunate the PL+ crew voted for me to cover Michael Kopech today. Why? Because he’s ridiculously good and he isn’t getting nearly the amount of hype he should.
But we don’t know if he’s going to be in the starting rotation! I’LL GET TO THAT.
Imagine a world where Kopech is confirmed in the rotation for 2022 out of the gate. How do your feelings change? Are you suddenly filled with energy, excited to watch every single pitch he throws? No? Then you’ve come to the right place.
Join me today as I expose everything about Kopech’s arsenal and his situation in Chicago, and if you don’t leave here thrilled to watch at least 1/5 of White Sox baseball this year, a free month of PL+ is on me (seriously, just DM me).
His Stuff Is Nasty
What’s a hype article without showing you what he does best? We saw Kopech mostly as a reliever last year and the man was overwhelming:
Pretty dang slick. He fanned over a third of the batters he faced, limited hard contact plenty (that mark was near the 85th percentile of relievers), and constantly earned strikes. Not a huge surprise when you sit 97.3 mph on your fastball:
And feature a wipeout slider:
Those pitches aren’t just eye candy. Kopech’s four-seamer was a stellar CSW pitch near 35% while doing a great job at limiting hard contact as he pushed the pitch’s strike rate into the upper 60s. There’s intent to elevate that will keep its fantastic 15% SwStr alive and it pairs well with his secondaries.
Meanwhile, his slider matched his heater’s CSW and held batters to little damage across nearly 300 thrown. There’s a touch of growth left in the pitch to push either his O-Swing or Zone rates above 40% in 2022 (my bet is on the latter), but its raw ability commands awe.
There is more to Kopech than just four-seamer/slider, though as a reliever through the heavy majority of 2021, Kopech didn’t need to showcase his curveball and changeup much at all. Thing is, I think across a full season as a starter, we’ll not only see them more than a combined 10% of the time, but we’ll see them flourish.
Let’s start with the curveball. It doesn’t feature the greatest shape, but it gets the job done:
The pitch was able to earn strikes 10 points higher than the average RP hook, with batters barely making hard contact with the pitch. It’s a product of tossing upper 90s with a ridiculous slider—you’re able to surprise batters with a new pitch that batters simply aren’t prepared for. That’s what keeping batters “honest” is all about.
The final pitch is a changeup that we saw a touch more in his brief time as a starter in 2018 than his reliever-focused 2021. When the pitch works, it works:
That’s a whole lot of drop, and it makes you wonder if there’s a world where Kopech finds consistency with it to demolish lefties (or even right-handers) gearing up for heat. I was stoked about its potential when I saw it during his MLB debut (read the GIF Breakdown here) and that hope still lingers. Don’t rule it out.
You know, I should have led with a table. Nick, you can edit this before you publish it. Nope, we’re sticking it here. Now that you’ve gotten a sense of all four offerings, here’s how they performed across all of last year:
Here’s what I expect across a full year of starting. Four-seamer usage will drop a touch, changeups will increase against left-handers closer to 10%, curveballs likely follow suit to flirt with double-digits, and likely the same serving of sliders.
Expect curveballs second time through the lineup as called-strike machines, a sprinkle of slow balls to lefties, sliders early and late (hopefully with a small improvement in strike rate toward 65%), and four-seamers to overwhelm. It’s a full repertoire and I’m excited to see Kopech iron out the kinks.
Kopech Starting = Brilliant
Kopech officially started four games, though he was traditionally given only a few innings outside a spot start where he was allowed to go five frames:
4/25 vs. Tex: 5.0 IP, 4 Hits, 1 ER, 0 BBs, 10 Ks.
His four-seamer went 11/55 in whiffs. Sliders excelled at the bottom of the zone. We even saw a sprinkle of changeups and curveballs, all located fairly well to keep batters off balance. It was glorious and we all internalized our anger knowing it was a blip in a season of relief appearances.
We only saw Kopech get the first pearl twice more in 2021, and his final “start” on September 25th came across two frames, but that final outing made me as hyped as ever. Just look at his strikezone plot for the game:
His red four-seamers sat in the upper third of the zone while he spotted secondary pitches including the purple slider down consistently. It’s the BSB and given Kopech’s overwhelming arsenal, dominance awaits if we see plots like these with any regularity.
Kopech Is Very Likely To Be In The Rotation
I’m not just projecting optimism here. Read this quote from NBC White Sox beat writer Vinnie Duber:
“Michael Kopech is being elevated to the rotation for next year after throwing out of the bullpen in 2021…”
Is elevated. Vinnie outlines how Rick Hahn has wanted to protect Kopech’s workload in 2021, and this Athletic article from James Fegan continues to suggest Kopech’s possible role as an opener to ease him into the rotation…
…however this is 2022 where we’re likely to miss three weeks of the season (if not all of April). The limitations aren’t necessary when starting every five days of the season plants Kopech around 140/150 frames.
There’s a chance the White Sox resign Carlos Rodón or pursue another option to pad their depth, but with Giolito/Lynn/Cease at the top and Dallas Keuchel as the only other option, Kopech seems cleared to not only earn a rotation spot out of camp, but command it indefinitely.
Kopech’s four-seamer and slider are phenomenal. His curveball was able to steal strikes 67% of the time as they landed in the zone, making a decent #3 pitch. There’s a hint of promise in his changeup to develop further as he gets more time as a starter. I’m going to stop writing short sentences in an effort to make simple points, and rather extend this one as a physical representation of how deep your love for Kopech should run—far and beyond the horizon.
I don’t believe there’s haze in Kopech’s ability, just a question of role for the White Sox. Given the status of 2022, reports from insiders, and the structure of the White Sox rotation, all signs point toward Kopech getting confirmation as a starter before opening day hits. Get excited, get hyped, get your popcorn to watch this budding ace earn his spotlight.
Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerdesigns_ on Twitter)