It’s never easy to know exactly what to expect from a pitcher who misses significant time due to injury. Will the control be there (something that’s never a given)? Will the velocity be back immediately? Could it take several months for them to get back up to snuff?
There’s no universally right answer, and for the most part there’s some guesswork/projection involved in drawing conclusions. In this series of articles we’ll try to diagnosis some of the pitchers returning from injury to try and determine if there’s any value for 2020:
Michael Kopech – Chicago White Sox
Kopech underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018, completely wiping out his 2019 season. There would’ve been concerns about an innings limit helping to cap his value, but that no longer may be the case. He threw a total of 140.1 innings in 2018, and even if he was expected to match that number it could now potentially carry him through the entire season.
That leaves two significant questions, his velocity and his control.
The velocity didn’t appear to be an issue this spring. He averaged 95.2 mph on his fastball in his 14.1 IP in the Majors in 2018 and reports have him throwing even harder than that this spring. According to Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:
The former top Red Sox prospect tossed a perfect inning, and his first four pitches clocked in at 100, 101, 100 and 101 mph. Six of his 11 pitches registered at least 100 mph on the radar gun.
That brings us to his control, which was a question even before the injury/missed season. Here’s a few key numbers from Kopech and his career:
- 4.27 BB/9 over 126.1 IP at Triple-A in ‘18
- 4.4 BB/9 over 395.2 IP in his Minor League career
- 0 BB in 1.0 IP in Spring Training
Even before the injury there was a belief that his control could lead to an eventual move to the bullpen. Prior to 2018 we had given him an “A-“ grade, but also noted:
If Kopech can’t find his control consistently he could easily be shifted to the bullpen, where he will likely emerge as one of the elite closers in the game. While the White Sox will continue to try and develop him as a starter, given his upside potential, he should be an elite talent regardless of the role.
Throw in questions about his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, with a 38.6% groundball rate at Triple-A in ’18, and the risk potentially outweighs the reward. While that is true long-term, it is especially the case in 2020 when the control is even more of a question mark. It’s not to say that there isn’t upside, it’s just that there’s far more downside.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, NBC Sports Boston
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 preseason rankings: