Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
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.