It’s been an uneven season for White Sox right-hander Michael Kopech. He opened the season with a brutal first month where he posted a 7.01 ERA in 25 2/3 innings of work, though he was much more effective in May and June, with a combined 2.83 ERA in 60 1/3 innings across 11 starts. Kopech then missed two weeks leading into the All Star break with a bout of shoulder inflammation, and the wheels have completely come off for Kopech in eight starts since then.
The 27-year-old hurler has posted a brutal 7.15 ERA. Looking under the hood at those eight appearances, Kopech has averaged just over four innings a start while allowing more earned runs (27) and walks (31) than strikeouts (25). That translates to a meager 15.1% strikeout rate and an unbelievable 19.1% walk rate over 34 innings since the All Star break.
While Kopech’s brutal second half, uneven first half, and previous success out of the bullpen where he sports a much more palatable career 3.90 ERA all suggest a return to a relief role could benefit the right-hander, James Fegan of the Chicago Sun Times relays that, according to manager Pedro Grifol, a change in role for Kopech isn’t something the club is considering, either for the remainder of the 2023 campaign or for next season.
“Him not being a starter is not anywhere close to what we’re thinking and anywhere close to what he should be thinking,” Grifol told Fegan, “…even the other day, he was able to gain a little bit of confidence as the outing went on, he was up to 98. The potential’s there.” Grifol goes on to argue that the key to Kopech finding success as a starter figures to be on the mental side of the game, saying that “It’s his responsibility and ours to come together to get that mental side right.”
It’s worth noting that the south-siders are lacking in options to replace Kopech for the remainder of 2023 at this point, what with both Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn having been shipped away prior to the trade deadline. With Mike Clevinger, Jesse Scholtens, Touki Toussaint and Dylan Cease all already in the rotation, the club’s options for starting depth on the 40-man roster are limited to the likes of Deivi Garcia and Luis Patino, each of whom were placed on waivers by teams in desperate need of starting depth themselves due to poor performance.
Still, that the Sox don’t seem interested in trying the former first-round pick out of the bullpen even heading into next season is indicative of how the club sees itself headed into the 2024 campaign. With Cease locked into the club’s 2024 rotation barring a trade, Scholtens having made himself an interesting back-end option in his own right, and a deep free agent class of pitchers on the horizon this offseason, it would certainly be possible for the White Sox to construct a rotation that would push Kopech to the bullpen. On the other hand, those types of decisions would presumably fall to the club’s GM, and the Sox have yet to hire a replacement for Rick Hahn and Ken Williams, both of whom were fired last week.
It’s also worth noting that while Grifol indicates Kopech will begin the 2024 season as a member of the club’s starting rotation, internal options from the farm system could make their way to the majors throughout the season and challenge for the right-hander’s rotation spot. Recently-acquired right-handers Nick Nastrini and Jake Eder are both prospects with rotation potential who reached the Double-A level before joining the organization, while oft-injured left-hander Garrett Crochet certainly has the stuff to be an interesting rotation option in the event he can get sufficiently healthy this offseason to stretch out as a starter.