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.

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he surveyed the landscape this offseason, Peter Bourjos thought he and the White Sox would make for a good fit.

Adam Eaton had been traded and Austin Jackson departed via free agency, leaving the White Sox with Melky Cabrera and several young players to man a thin outfield. Bourjos, who lived in Chicago until second grade, pursued the White Sox and last month agreed to terms on a minor-league deal in hopes of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Last season, Bourjos, who was born in Chicago, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 383 plate appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I always liked playing in Chicago,” Bourjos said. “It was a good fit and then spring training is here. I have two young kids. So packing them up and going to Florida wasn’t something I wanted to do either.

“We definitely look at all those options on paper. Evaluate what might be the best chance of making a team and this is definitely one of them. It seems like a good fit on paper.”

If he’s healthy enough, Charlie Tilson will get the first crack at the everyday job in center field. Tilson, who missed the final two months of last season with a torn hamstring, is currently sidelined for 10 days with foot problems. Beyond Tilson, the White Sox have prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May with Cabrera slated to start in left field and Avisail Garcia pegged for right. Leury Garcia is also in the mix.

But there still appears to be a good shot for Bourjos to make the club and manager Rick Renteria likes his veteran presence for the young group. Bourjos has accrued six seasons of service time between the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bourjy has been around,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes. He understands the little nuances of major-league camp and how we have so many players and we want to give them all a look. We want to see Bourjos, we want to see him out there.”

Bourjos, who turns 30 in March, has an idea what he wants to do with his chance. A slick defensive outfielder, Bourjos wants to prove he’s a better hitter than his .243/.300/.382 slash line would suggest. He said it’s all about being relaxed.

“Offensively just slow everything down and not try to do too much,” Bourjos said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it hasn’t translated. I think last year I got in a spot where I just tried to relax in the batter’s box and let everything go and what happened happened. I had success with that.

“I now realize what that feels like and it doesn’t work. Just take a deep breath and be relaxed in the box and good things are going to happen.”

Gio, Geo and Gio: White Sox spring training has its own version of 'Who's on First?'

Gio, Geo and Gio: White Sox spring training has its own version of 'Who's on First?'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Giovanni Soto pitched to Geovany Soto at White Sox camp on Monday morning, and the Internet loved it.

The veteran catcher and rookie pitcher, who share similar names and have been friends for two years, worked together during live batting practice. The unrelated pair, who both hail from Puerto Rico, said they’ve been confused for each other several times since reporting to camp last week. Each has also heard the other’s name being called out and thought it was for them, which has led to more confusion. But those mix-ups haven’t limited their enjoyment of the situation, either.

“It’s kind of surreal that he has the same name, last name,” Geovany Soto said. “It’s kind of weird calling him Gio and he’s calling me Geo. It’s kind of weird.

“With the physicals, doctors, the people for the drug testing, we’ve been confused in all three of those. I’m expecting that to happen. Hopefully I can get a big check on his name and cash it.”

The social media world isn’t alone in its enjoyment of the topic as both players smiled while discussing it on Monday.

Giovanni Soto said the players met two seasons ago when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians and the catcher was in his first stint with the White Sox. They grew up about 20 minutes apart from each other in Puerto Rico and now spend time together in the offseason. But what has made the scenario even more confusing is that White Sox prospect Lucas Giolito is seated only a few stalls away from Giovanni Soto in the clubhouse.

“It’s kind of weird, especially in the clubhouse and on the field because when someone says Geo, we turn around to see if it’s for him or for me,” Giovanni Soto said. “And we also have Giolito, and people call him Gio. It’s weird, but it’s funny too.”

Both Sotos could make the team’s Opening Day roster.

Geovany Soto, who signed a minor league contract in January, is the most experienced catcher in camp and is favored to win a job. Giovanni Soto, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs in November, is one of several relievers competing for a spot and could make the club if the White Sox decide to carry two left-handers in the bullpen. And while Giolito is expected to start the season at Triple-A, he could reach the majors at some point causing more pandemonium.

“There’s a lot of Geo going on with Giolito, Giovanni and then me,” Geovany Soto said. “And can get pretty hectic. But yeah, it’s fun for us.”