As the 2018 season approaches its twilight, one single player performance the rest of the way that will draw a lot of my attention will be that of Michael Kopech’s.
One of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball the past few years, Kopech was just recently called up by the White Sox to make his major league debut. The time came to tune into his start, which was short lived thanks to a lengthy rain delay, only getting to see two innings from the 22-year-old righty. It may seem like too small a sample size to draw any conclusions from this start, but in the new age of Statcast and quickly stabilizing raw statistics for pitchers, I saw enough to fully entice me.
Leading up to his first major league start, Kopech was on an absolute tear in the triple-A International League. Known to have control issues, he saw an improvement in his last month in the IL with the walks, perhaps accelerating his run to the big leagues. Because of this, he looked pretty unstoppable.
- April 9th to July 5th: 82.1 IP, 4.70 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 30.1 percent strikeout-rate, 15.2 percent walk-rate, 58.0 percent strike-rate
- July 14th to August 16th: 44 IP, 1.84 ERA, 1.94 FIP, 33.9 percent strikeout-rate, 2.3 percent walk-rate, 72.0 percent strike-rate
Following up those good run of control numbers, he walked zero batters in his major league debut, throwing strikes at a 67.3 percent clip. That wasn’t even the thing that impressed me the most though. The numbers on the 41 four-seamers he threw were insane. Averaging 96.8 MPH with the offering, he added in a spin rate that only Justin Verlander, Garrett Richards, Mike Minor, Yu Darvish, and Tyson Ross have exceeded this year. It was some of the best velocity/spin combination we’ve seen all year.
The movement looked ridiculous too. Here’s the fastball.
The slider also showed plus-movement.
Three of Kopech’s four strikeouts came with the fastball, simply blowing away hitters with two strikes. Setting hitters up with a below-average velocity slider (though this was his one strikeout on the slider) like this one was key.
Then he’d mess up the timing with heaters like this, which proved even more effective because he threw it high in the zone, changing the batter’s eye.
If this improvement in control is here to stay for Michael Kopech, we could be looking at one of the more entertaining pitchers to watch for the rest of the season. And in a lost season for the White Sox where young players such as Lucas Giolio, Reynaldo Lopez, and Yoan Moncada have struggled, that’ll be plenty welcome.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.