First Pitch: Cooper's been super for the White Sox

First Pitch: Cooper's been super for the White Sox

Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010
6:25 PM
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

BOSTON With five starts down, the early returns on new Chicago acquisition Edwin Jacksonand by extension, tutelage from White Sox pitching coach Don Cooperare extremely positive.

Sure, the sample size is still modestjust five starts. But how good have those five starts been?

Most markedly, Coopers suggestion to Jackson that he apply the Jose Contreras Treatmenti.e., a more erect posture in his deliveryhas worked wonders. (Its neither a surprise that Cooper spotted the flaw immediately upon viewing tape of Jackson nor that he was hopping exciting to get the flamethrower in trade.)

Jackson brought a 5.16 ERA with him from the Arizona Diamondbacks and has offered up a clean 1.47 ERA so far with the White Sox, along with reducing his H9 a full two, from 9.4 in Arizona to 7.4. Hes also cut his walks in half (4.0 BB9 to 2.0 BB9) while increasing his strikeouts by four (11.0 K9 in Chicago vs. just 7.0 K9 in Arizona). Those factors have combined to have increased Jacksons KBB by 200, from 1.73 with the Diamondbacks to 5.63 with the White Sox.

Cooper wont take credit for it, always deflecting credit for improvement to his players, but Jacksons increased control is almost wholly a result of the posture tweak. The resulting confidenceJackson is matter-of-fact about it, but hes clearly found confidence beyond any hes had on the major-league level, going so far as to call his trade to the White Sox a new life. That new life could be the difference between Jackson pitching like a No. 5 starterlong reliever and a potential staff ace. In a sabermetric sense, Jackson offered the Diamondbacks just 0.6 WAR (wins above a replacement levelAAA-player) in 21 starts but has tripled his value to 1.7 WAR in just a quarter of the starts in Chicago.

Its not Jackson. Javier Vazquez was better (5.9 WAR) in 2007 with the White Sox than he even was with the Montreal Expos (5.4) or last years Cy Young candidacy campaign with the Atlanta Braves (5.2). Freddy Garcia was already a star when GM Ken Williams acquired him in 2004, but his WAR broken down per start shows that his Chicago White Sox yearspitching into his 30s in his first stint and coming off of major shoulder surgery prior to his secondhave been every bit as efficient as his time with the Seattle Mariners, with whom he pitched in his prime. And even Bartolo Colon, who won a Cy Young with the Los Angeles Angels in 2005 (4.4 WAR) and had two other 4.4-plus seasons with the Cleveland Indians, never surpassed his 4.7 WAR in 2003 with the White Sox.

Lets take a look at some other famous Cooper turnaround efforts, beginning with the two players the pitching coach himself was quickest to cite:

Esteban Loaiza, 2003-04 (55 starts7.7 WAR)
Loaiza, who started the 2003 All-Star Game and finished second in the 2003 AL Cy Young voting, is perhaps the most famous, and one of the earliest, Cooper reclamation. He was a brilliant low-risk sign by GM Ken Williams, and led directly to the Coopers second-greatest turnaround

Jose Contreras, 2004-09 (146 starts10.4 WAR)
Contreras couldnt find his way in New York with the Yankees, but Williams and Cooper saw enough potential in him to swap him for Loaiza in 2004. Without overlooking the help offered by adding countryman Orlando Hernandez to the club, Cooper made a series of corrections to Contreras delivery that made him the premier starter in the American League from the stretch run of 2005, through the White Soxs World Series run, and into 2006.

Matt Thornton, 2006-present (325 games8.7 WAR)
Thornton was obtained for failed bonus baby outfielder Joe Borchard but was hardly less of a disappointment for the Seattle Mariners, who made him a first-round pick in 1998. The acquisition of Jackson brought the comparisons hot and heavy with Thornton, as Coopers one-session adjustment with Thornton brought immediate dividends and resuscitated his career to such an extent that that flamethrowing lefty was just named to his first All-Star Game in 2010.

Its not any one thing Coop did that helped, necessarily, Thornton said. But overall, he underscores your own strengths as a pitcher and helps pare away the other stuff that gets in the way.

Gavin Floyd, 2007-present (100 starts10.8 WAR)
Floyd was a No. 4 pick overall in 2001 but underperformed to such an extent he was deemed expendable by the Philadelphia Phillies after just 19 major league starts. In Chicago, the turnaround wasnt overnight, but it has been significant. Not only is Floyd enjoying the strongest stretch of his career over the past two months, but hes gone from a gopher-ball server (2.2 HR9 in his first Chicago season in 2007) to the stingiest long-ball starter on the club (0.7 HR9 this season, including a stretch of 77-plus innings without a home run this summer).

Its breaking it down to basics, Floyd said of Coopers help. Youre a young pitcher, you have a lot thrown at you, youre putting pressure on yourself. Coop helped me strip it down to some of the simplest things and keeping that as my focus.
Dustin Hermanson, 2005 (57 games2.2 WAR)
Hermanson didnt have his best season with the White Sox in 2005, but he was the primary Chicago closer in 2005 before back pain sidelined him, pain that would render his final White Sox (and major league) season of 2006 moot. Cooper guided Hermansons delivery to help him stave off the back pain that would end his career.

Cliff PolitteNeal Cotts, 2003-06 (a combined 351 games3.5 WAR)
Politte and Cotts are minor success stories, and only Cotts pitched for the club in 2003, but neither player accomplished much after their White Sox days. Both were key short men for the 2005 World Series champions.

Damaso Marte, 2002-05 (279 games7.7 WAR)
Marte was run out of town after attitude problems saw him hold a smaller and smaller role on the World Series winners. But its telling that while Marte has enjoyed a long career as a lefty specialist, his only sustained success came in his four seasons in Chicago.
John Danks, 2008-present (117 starts16.1 WAR)
Danks isnt just the centerpiece of perhaps the greatest trade made in the Williams era, but another great example of Cooper at work. Sure, he was just 20 years old when acquired and could have been expected to mature as a pitcher, but Danks came to Chicago as a high-hits, high-home run hurler. Cooper has helped guide Danks to 2.7 less H9 and HR9 in the 2007 season compared with his work so far in 2010.

Sometimes these guys with such enormous talent have a lot thrown at themthey may be overcoached, Cooper said. Other times, theyre such raw, natural talents that they are left on their own. In Johns case, here was an enormously talented guy who couldnt get past the fifth or sixth inning. We set about right away to change that, and you see the results.

Jon Garland, 2002-07 (194 starts16.9 WAR)
Garland had 29 starts for Chicago prior to 2002, but well count only the seasons in which Cooper was the White Sox pitching coach (he took over on July 22, 2002). Garland was a notoriously stubborn player, and came to the White Sox feeling as if hed been thrown under the bus by his prior club, the Chicago Cubs. Thus one of Coopers biggest challenges with the lanky youngster was simply in convincing him that he had the pitchers best interests at heart. The proof of Coopss persuasion? Garland enjoyed by far his peak years, 2005-07 (46-30, including back-to-back 18-win seasons and a 12.1 WAR), under his tutelage.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

White Sox grieve Jose Fernandez's death along with rest of MLB

fernandez.jpg

White Sox grieve Jose Fernandez's death along with rest of MLB

CLEVELAND -- Whether they knew him or not, the overwhelming sentiment throughout the White Sox clubhouse on Sunday is that baseball was robbed of one of its most likeable players when Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragically killed in a boating accident.

Known for his vivid celebrations on the field and his wide, endless smile, Fernandez made a strong impression, whether with his skillset or infinite love of the game. White Sox players had their eyes fixed on several televisions littered throughout the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field on Sunday during a morning press conference confirming the death of Fernandez, 24, and two others.

White Sox reliever Dan Jennings played with Fernandez for two seasons. Though he enjoyed a 3-0 White Sox win over the Cleveland Indians on Sunday, Jennings said his happiness was muted as he mulled the death of Fernandez, who was killed when the boat he was on slammed into a jetty in Miami Beach, Fla.

“He seemed invincible is what it was,” Jennings said. “A lot of guys know what I mean when I say he was invincible on the mound. There were days he was unstoppable, and that’s how you viewed him is invincible. It’s too hard to really put into words what he meant to the game and what he meant to Miami.”

“I just hope to love the game as much as he does some day. It’s tough to do, but he did. He had fun, and he loved the game more than anything.”

Todd Frazier remembers how approachable he found Fernandez in their limited interactions. The two met in the outfield one day after they faced each other for the first time and joked around.

“I was like, ‘Dog, you don’t throw me any fastballs,’ ” Frazier said. “He was like, “Why would I throw you fastballs?’ And we just started laughing.

“That’s the kind of guy he was. You could come up and talk to him. He had an infectious smile and just had a love for the game that I hope every ballplayer could have. It’s a terrible, terrible day.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Fernandez’s death reminded him of the March 22, 1993 accident that took the lives of Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews. Only pitcher Bob Ojeda survived that crash and Ventura remembers the shockwaves it sent through clubhouses throughout baseball.

“I can still remember … just how sad that was,” Ventura said. “You don’t have to know them personally. But they’re within their group, and it breaks everybody up. It really does.”

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon didn’t have a chance to meet Fernandez, a pitcher he admired for his competitive style and bulldog mentality. But another reason Rodon looked up to Fernandez is for the way he seemed to play the game with such joy. Marlins manager Don Mattingly said during a press conference Sunday that Fernandez enjoyed the game like a Little Leaguer does.

Rodon recently spoke about rediscovering his own joy of baseball. Naturally, Rodon’s thoughts drifted toward Fernandez when he took the mound on Sunday.

“You could tell,” Rodon said. “We had a beautiful day to come out and play and sad to say that one person is never going to get to play again. He’ll be very missed. You can’t take these days for granted. Just hope you guys go home today and tell the people you love, you love them. Losing a person like that is hard.”

Carlos Rodon strikes out 11 as White Sox top Indians

Carlos Rodon strikes out 11 as White Sox top Indians

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Rodon and his filthy repertoire made sure Cleveland’s celebration would have to wait for another day.

Rodon had his best outing of the season on Sunday afternoon and the White Sox prevented the Cleveland Indians from clinching an American League Central title with a 3-0 win in front of 24,118 at Progressive Field. Rodon matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts and allowed just two hits and three walks over eight scoreless innings. David Robertson struck out the side in the ninth to convert his 36th save. The two White Sox pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts in the two-hitter, including eight of the last nine.

“That’s the best I’ve seen (Rodon),” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Strike one was the biggest thing and it was with authority, it was placed well. After that it just seems like he got better as the game moved along. A couple of guys get on and he turned it up in key situations. In the middle of the game, late in the game. He had it all.”

Working with a strong fastball and a wipeout slider, Rodon had no-hit stuff from the outset as he breezed through the early innings. The left-hander retired the side in order in the first on 10 pitches and only slowed down once.

He worked around a leadoff walk in the second inning and didn’t put another man on base until he walked Jose Ramirez with one out in the fourth inning. But Rodon rebounded from that with a strikeout of Mike Napoli and a Carlos Santana pop out.

Brandon Guyer ended Rodon’s no-hit bid with a leadoff single to center in the fifth inning and Coco Crisp followed with a walk. Both runners moved into scoring position on a sac bunt, but Rodon toughened up and escaped the jam with his 1-0 lead intact. Michael Martinez’s fly out to shallow right wasn’t deep enough to score Guyer from third and Rodon blew a 95-mph fastball past Rajai Davis to strand the pair in scoring position.

“When he did get in a jam he settled down,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “You didn’t see him get antsy or excited. You see it in pitchers’ faces. Sometimes guys got antics out there with the pouty face. He didn’t have any of that, he just bulldogged his way through and I couldn’t be happier for him. Hopefully there’s more of that to come for him next year.”

Rodon was superb the rest of the way as he retired the side in order in the sixth and eighth innings, including striking out all three men in the latter. Rodon struck out five of seven batters between the seventh and eighth innings to establish a new season-high and tie his career mark with 11.

Rodon improved to 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts since Aug. 6.

“I was able to drive the ball today and when I’m going good that’s the way it is, driving the ball through the zone and attacking hitters,” Rodon said. “It needs to stay like that.”

The White Sox offense provided just enough support for Rodon against Josh Tomlin and Co.

Frazier’s leadoff single in the fifth inning and stolen base set up the team’s first run as Carlos Sanchez singled to left with two outs to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead.

The White Sox later capitalized on a Michael Martinez error as they loaded the bases with one out. Pinch runner J.B. Shuck tagged on Sanchez’s fly ball to shallow center and scored even though the throw beat him as catcher Chris Gimenez couldn’t hang onto the ball.

Frazier drew a one-out walk in the ninth, stole second base and advanced to third on an error. Omar Narvaez then provided insurance with a two-out RBI single to put the White Sox up by three runs.

That was plenty for Rodon and Robertson to work with.

“There’s a lot on the line for these guys playing on the other side being able to clinch something and he just had his mind set on it,” Ventura said. “Today he was going out with a purpose. He was locating, he had great command on his changeup. It’s a lineup that has been able to rough us up before and he responded.”