September 2, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) catcher Tyler Flowers (17) and pitching coach Don Cooper (21) walk in from bullpen before the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Elite pitching management has their work cut out for them

In what has to be the most sincere and broad-based contemplation of preseason projections by the White Sox media world yet, a lot of time and energy has been spent exploring why these various, otherwise respectable enough projection systems undersell the Sox consistently. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs leaned for the two explanations that White Sox fans themselves probably would have reached for if pressed.

  • Better than expected health thanks to the work of Herm Schneider
  • Better than expected pitching performance, especially from back-end starters coached up to competence
In turn, in a truly enjoyable moment of beat writers using their access to provide depth to research from the advanced statistics-oriented blogosphere took place, and CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes went to the White Sox sources to find out the specifics. One highlight of the piece was trainer Herm Schneider laying out the commitment he demands from players in their prep work:

“You brush your teeth every day, you take a shower every day, you do the shoulder program en needed,” Schneider said. “They’re really good about it. Our group understands how important it is, how good it is. Do they like doing it? I can’t exactly say that, but they also understand it’s very monumental to them and the reward at the end of the road is pretty great when it becomes contract time.”

At least twice a week, pitchers enter the training room for 45 minutes and participate in 32-35 exercises aimed at strengthening a pitcher’s shoulder. Schneider accepts nothing less than perfection, which means players can’t listen to headphones and they need to display good posture and textbook form.

The team’s trainer since 1979, Schneider asks pitchers to “make deposits” to allow them to comfortably make withdrawals every time they pitch.”

Another highlight was an examination of the communication that went on between the coaching staff and Chris Sale as his performance waned down the stretch of the season, and what steps were taken to maintain his productivity.

“In dealing with Sale and rookie Jose Quintana, who completed a career-high 136 1/3 innings, Cooper said he looked for a number of different warning signs. A varied arm slot, decreased velocity and the way the ball comes out of a pitcher’s hand are indicators. A pitcher’s body language sometimes can provide a nonverbal form. Yet another comes from the response of players when asked questions, which Hahn said helped tremendously in Sale’s case.

Because Sale offered up how he felt, the White Sox gave him extra days in between starts or skipped him when they could and now they’re reaping the benefits as the second-year starter is on the same schedule as other White Sox starters this spring.”

It’s a warming story, because well-run organizations stocked with talented individuals are fun to marvel at, but also because health concerns loom over a pitching staff that will be asked to carry the weight for the team’s playoff fates.

John Danks recovering from a scary shoulder surgery and stepping into a rotation at his old performance level is obviously the biggest variable element in the staff’s fate, and pits the ominous history of pitchers recovering from shoulder problems against the White Sox own glorious track record. That understandably puts Danks’ still event-free rehab process in an even more optimistic light than the rave reviews from teammates have put him.

Matt Thornton’s elbow inflammation is the first issue of any true substance to emerge this spring training, and also the first issue that could draw out a positive of the otherwise unfortunately bloated camp length. It’s an issue for which the answer is rest, and there’s plenty of time for it and no day-to-day relief disasters taking place to provide motivation to skip steps.

Robin Ventura’s “old arm” joke would be fuel for contemplation and pondering the advancing fragility of traditionally durable Thornton, if it didn’t lead down the path of acting as though the emergence of inflammation in pitching elbows can be predicted or follows reliable patterns in any way.

The challenge of developing Jose Quintana, which was also touched on by Hayes, again called upon the notion on the Sox relying on their ability to communicate with their pitchers. In this case, Cooper was taken by how well Quintana had responded to his suggestions for his offseason program.

“He’s not under the radar for me,” Cooper said. “He’s one of our starters. … I could tell the first day that this son of a gun worked on everything we asked him to work on. That’s a nice feeling that somebody was smart enough, heard those words, took them and ran with it.”

Quintana burst onto the scene in May, flashing a reliable ability to place his fastball and cutter on the hands of right-handers. It’s a useful skill, but on it requires a counter-move, especially with how precise Quintana’s lack of raw stuff requires him to be. A well-honed changeup seems like the traditional solution, even if Quintana’s translated comments didn’t mention it specifically.

“I feel like I can pitch inside well, it’s just being able to command that outside part of the plate,” Quintana said through a translator. “I’ve felt a lot of improvement. I started working on that way back in December. I’m starting to feel like it’s coming. I feel pretty good about it.”

I’m wary of slipping into positivism, because that happens too much already. The team version of events is always available, whereas critiques are acquired in an ad hoc fashion, if at all. But with Cooper and Schneider, the miraculous works have arrived prior to the calls for faith, and the spring training platitudes and odes to self-satisfaction are adorned with an unfamiliar feeling.

They feel earned.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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Tags: Chicago White Sox Don Cooper Herm Schneider

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