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.

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

Todd Frazier's late single lifts White Sox over Mariners

The White Sox offense showed a bunch of late life on Thursday night.

Todd Frazier had two hits with runners in scoring position, including the game-winner, as the White Sox topped the Seattle Mariners 7-6 at U.S. Cellular Field. Frazier’s one-out single in the ninth inning off Nick Vincent scored Adam Eaton as the White Sox won for the fourth time in five games. Frazier’s game-winning hit was his first since June 2015 and the fifth of his career. It and a game-tying, two-out, two-run single in the seventh helped Frazier shake off a game in which he struck out three times in his first three at-bats.

“You learn something,” Frazier said. “You take the last at-bat and throw it away and just keep on going. Unfortunately, it took me three times to do that. To come up clutch today felt pretty good.”

Frazier leads the club in home runs and RBIs.

Similar to his teammates, however, Frazier has lefty plenty of chances for more damage on the table. He entered Thursday hitting .159 with runners in scoring position for a team that ranks 18th with runners in scoring position (.255).

While Frazier struck out with runners on the corners in the first inning, he succeeded in his next two tries. He picked up Jose Abreu in the seventh after the slugger struck out against Steve Cishek. Frazier sat on a slider and ripped a 2-0 pitch into left field to drive in Eaton and Tim Anderson, whose one-out RBI double made it a 6-4 game.

Then in the ninth, Frazier came through again. Eaton’s bloop single to center got things going before Anderson bunted him over. Vincent walked Abreu to get to Frazier, who singled to left again.

Frazier was previously 17-for-17 with five doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

“These are the best ones,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You can't rely just on the homer. There's more to his game than that. You have to be able to knock in runs when you're not hitting them over the fence. He can use the other side of the field. I think he can level it out somewhat and get some hits. Just put it in play more because you don't know know what's going to happen.”

[MORE: Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017]

David Robertson found that out in the top of the ninth inning when his outing was delayed for several minutes by a trio of fans who ran onto the field. Robertson worked around the delay and a one-out walk to keep the score tied at 6.

Down 2-0, the White Sox scored three times in the first inning to briefly take the lead.

Abreu and Avisail Garcia both singled in runs and Dioner Navarro had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo pitched well after a slow start and then ran into bad luck in the sixth inning. What looked to be a surefire double play ball kicked off Ranaudo’s glove and combined with an Anderson throwing error led to a three-run inning that put Seattle ahead 6-3.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ranaudo allowed six earned runs in 5.1 innings.

The White Sox were 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“That’s just part of it,” Robertson said. “I guess that happens some times.

“Everybody played hard. They didn’t give up at all tonight. We pitched well enough to win and had timely hitting. A few things went our way, a couple errors that really ended up giving us a few runs. A few things went our way and it was great to pick up a win.”

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn denies rift in White Sox front office, holds off on plans for 2017

Rick Hahn said Thursday he won’t divulge which direction the White Sox would head this offseason out of respect to his current players and staff.

But once the offseason begins, Hahn said it would quickly become evident what the White Sox front office has in mind. Roughly a month after his comments about being “mired in mediocrity,” the White Sox general manager said that he, executive vice president Kenny Williams and club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf are still mulling their options and open to all. Hahn also strongly denied recent reports that a divided front office prevented the start of a rebuild at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, describing them as “tired.”

“The frustrating thing is it seems every few months we need to have this same conversation,” Hahn said. “The fact of the matter is I have no idea where an unnamed random report of any discord at the deadline came from. It’s simply untrue. There was no trade or direction of whatever it was described as vetoed, so to speak, at the deadline.

“We are of a similar mindset as to how best to proceed. We’ve had a number of conversations, both Kenny and I, as well as Kenny, Jerry and I, about the best way to approach the offseason and what we want to accomplish. And once the offseason rolls around we will start executing that plan.”

“It’s just, frankly, tired news and repetitive and there’s nothing there. None of us would be here doing what we do if we didn’t feel we were set up to have the potential for success.”

As for the most successful route to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Hahn wouldn’t yet commit to a plan. Hahn said the club would also address all questions about its roster and coaching staff after the season, which ends on Oct. 2.

With 36 games remaining after Thursday, the White Sox appear on pace for a fourth straight losing season.

[MORE: White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season]

While the team has many of the top-tier pieces necessary to compete, its lack of depth continues to be a critical issue holding back the franchise. Injuries in the bullpen and outfield and the unexpected retirement of Adam LaRoche forced many part-time players or inexperienced pitchers into key roles. With a farm system still short on talent, the White Sox would likely need a serious cash infusion to fill in some of those holes in order to compete in 2017. Or, they could begin a rebuilding process and replenish their farm system by unloading some of their talented, affordable players.

Either way, Hahn isn’t ready to talk shop.

“We have a sense of what we want to do,” Hahn said. “Frankly, regardless of which direction it is — full rebuild or add on — we’re still in the middle of the season.

“If I were to say we’re going to do a full rebuild that’s disrespectful to what they’re trying to accomplish. To the other extreme, if I were to say we’re going to fight and go for it and plug the holes it begs the question, ‘Where are the holes?’ and that’s disrespectful to the guys in the clubhouse. It’s just not the time to be laying out offseason plans. We’re working on it, exploring a lot of angles internally trying to come up with priorities so we can hit the ground running when the time is appropriate.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

When he spoke about the team’s trade deadline plans July 21, Hahn said the White Sox had only ruled out short-term acquisitions, but remained open to all options. He said the idea of trading away Chris Sale or Jose Quintana seemed “extreme,” in part because competing teams wouldn’t deal players helping them in their playoff chases; that they’d have a better market in the offseason.

Hahn said Thursday the White Sox remain open-minded. When reminded that the White Sox have operated in an aggressive manner under Reinsdorf, Hahn agreed. But he also noted that the White Sox haven’t been happy with their recent performances and left the door open for a rebuild.

“OK, but there also comes a point where there is a level of frustration with the way things have played out over the last couple of years,” Hahn said. “There are different approaches and again, I’m not saying (a rebuild) is the route we’re going to go. But I assure you there is absolute openness from Jerry, Kenny, myself. Everyone in that front office is looking for the best path to get us on an extended period of success, even if that involves a short-term step-back.”

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

Austin Jackson and Matt Davidson are officially done for the season.

Meanwhile, the White Sox still remain hopeful that Brett Lawrie is on the mend after a second MRI.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday that Jackson, who had surgery June 10 to repair a medial meniscus tear in left knee, and Davidson, who had surgery after he fractured his right foot, won’t return this season.

“Austin is progressing, but it unfortunately it’s been a slow pace,” Hahn said. “He has not taken baseball activities. I wouldn’t expect him back this season.”

Jackson hit .254/.318/.343 with 18 RBIs in 203 plate appearances before he suffered the injury.

At the time of Jackson’s injury, Hahn didn’t think it would end his season. But, Hahn did say it would take at least six weeks before they could re-evaluate Jackson’s knee post-surgery and get a better determination of when he might return. Jackson’s re-evaluation was pushed back a few days from the six-week mark and the White Sox made it clear they weren’t optimistic about him returning.

Davidson went 1-for-2 with an RBI before he broke his foot running the bases in his first game of the season.

“(I) would not expect (Davidson) either. It was a pretty bad fracture. It’s progressing and he’s hitting the early milestones. There just isn’t enough time for either of those two.”

Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list since July 22, had a second MRI earlier this week and is being treated, Hahn said.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Manager Robin Ventura has been adamant all along that Lawrie’s injury was tricky to diagnose. What began as a strained hamstring and later was thought to be a quad injury has been reclassified as a knee and calf issue. Hahn said the MRI showed the area is structurally sound.

“He received some medicine in the joint there,” Hahn said. “We’re let that work for a couple of days and we’ll ramp up the activity and see how it goes. No specific time frame.”

Miguel Gonzalez will participate in one more bullpen — possibly a simulated game — before he starts a rehab assignment, Ventura said. Gonzalez is on the DL with a strained right groin.