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Michael Kopech’s 2024 approach is a mind-boggling failure of coaching

by Tim Moran

Death, taxes, and Michael Kopech blowing games—the three certainties of life. Well, at least as of right now. The third entity on that list was no certainty just a few short years ago!

Talented and touted, Kopech was an elite reliever in 2021 for the White Sox. One failed starting pitcher journey later, Kopech is back in the pen and has a 5.45 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and five blown saves in thirteen opportunities. What exactly happened?

The answer is obvious for Sox fans brave enough to watch even a few games here and there this season. Kopech is a one-pitch pitcher, and that pitch…well it’s not reliable. Sounds like a recipe for success to me! Despite the glaring shortcomings of such an approach on the mound, the story remains the same. Every other day or so, poor Michael trudges out to the mound, hurls another 30 four-seam fastballs, and prays they land for strikes.

It goes something like this:

Sunday’s debacle was the epitome of 2024 Kopech, who entered the ninth protecting a slim 4-3 advantage. Astonishingly, eighteen of twenty pitches were fastballs. Two walks, a double, and a walk-off home run later, and the South Siders had lost to Jake Burger and the Miami Marlins, 7-4.

Recent run-yielding opportunities are no different—Kopech has struggled mightily to make his approach effective. Since June 1, the right-hander has a 5.86 ERA, 4.20 xFIP, and 5.60 BB/9 in 15 appearances. In that timeframe, Kopech has actually increased his four-seam usage. Before, it was sitting at a 78% pitch rate, then June saw a bump to 83%, and July featured an absurd 88.5% fastball rate.

Let’s take a look at fastball usage leaders across the league (min. 100 PA).

Unsurprisingly, Kopech is the clear leader in both four-seam and general fastball rate. Robert Suarez is the only other pitcher in the same stratosphere, but he’s actually been an elite closer in 2024. So how could that be? Simple: Suarez’s four-seamer is much better, and he knows where it’s going. As of today, Suarez boasts a 4.9 BB%, .286 SLG, and .363 xSLG on his fastball. Kopech’s four-seamer is at 13.4 BB%, .442 SLG, and .402 xSLG. They’re just not comparable offerings.

Futhermore, opposing hitters have to know Kopech’s gameplan by now, and it’s only logical that they become more confident in their assumptions as the season progresses. Here’s the hard-hit-and-barrel rate on Kopech’s fastball this campaign, by month:

Note the significant increases from May to now, and the season-high barrel rate in July. No matter the progression, no matter the time or place, Kopech’s approach is unsustainable, especially considering his command. Major league pitchers simply can’t allow hitters to guess what’s coming so easily, even if it is 99 mph cheese.

That leads to my next point: why haven’t Sox coaches encouraged the use of his other offerings? We’re going on month four of this failed experiment, why let a talented trade piece continue to languish without even a thought of tweaking something? It’s completely unacceptable. Continuing on this trajectory is akin to career suicide, and yet the fastball train keeps rolling.

It’s especially unacceptable because Kopech has added a plus cutter to his arsenal this season! Admittedly, the sample size is a little small, but look at these numbers.

How can Ethan Katz and Pedro Grifol sit by and watch this cutter get thrown nine percent of the time?? Hilariously, it’s actually more controlled than the four-seamer, yielding only a 10.5 BB% on the year.

Why not try and resurrect Kopech’s curveball? That breaking pitch was adequate as recent as 2022, registering a .269 SLG and .363 xSLG at a 12% usage rate. I’d also like to think that coaches are working hard on improving Kopech’s slider, which is horrendous this year but was a huge factor in his 2021 success. Yet that seems like wishful thinking.

I hope that Sunday’s embarrassing outing was the final straw for the four-seam-hellbent strategy. However, even if changes are made, it still will have been way too late. A basic understanding of baseball dictates that Kopech’s pitch usage is ridiculous. Advanced stats might help, but they aren’t needed to see this! This spectacle is yet another highly evident act of negligence on the part of Pedro Grifol and his supporting staff.

Follow us @SoxOn35th for more throughout the season!

Featured Image: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

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