There has been a lot of blame to go around with the White Sox losing 26 of their last 36. The fan hatred has mostly been directed toward Robin Ventura and James Shields (rightfully so). We have heard far less about Pitching Coach Don Cooper. Is it time to examine if he is still the right pitching coach?
When the White Sox hired Cooper in July 2002, they had a struggling rotation. They would improve on almost every statistic in his first full season. They finished the 2003 season in the top four in hits allowed, ERA, complete games, and strikeouts.
From 2003 through 2012, the White Sox pitching staff finished in the upper half of the American League in most categories. The 2012 season was Ventura’s first. The White Sox were 81-66 and had a three-game lead over Detroit on September 19th with 15 days remaining in the regular season. The White Sox would lose 12 of their next 14 games to drop three games behind Detroit.
During the last four seasons, the White Sox pitching has gone into a steep decline. They have been in the bottom third of the American League. This is in spite of Chris Sale becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball over the last five seasons and Jose Quintana being one of the most steady.
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One of Cooper strengths has been to get the best out of pitchers who did not succeed elsewhere or pitchers that seemed to lose what made them successful. Esteban Loaiza started the All-Star game and finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2003. He went 21-9 that season. His previous high in wins had been 11 twice and he would go on to win 12 with Washington in 2005. The White Sox would trade him to the Yankees during the 2004 season for Jose Contreras.
Contreras had 2.5 mostly uneventful seasons in New York. Cooper turned his career around. Contreras became the ace of the 2005 World Champions. He had a 17 game winning streak spanning the 2005-06 seasons.
Cooper has done a good job developing the White Sox young pitchers. The veterans he helped fix early in his White Sox career have not turned it around over the last few seasons. The list of veterans since 2012 that have faltered with the White Sox are numerous. John Danks, Mat Latos and so far James Shields this season, Jeff Samardzija last season, and Hector Noesi in 2014 . When he could stay healthy, Jake Peavy gave San Francisco quality seasons in 2014 and ’15 for San Francisco.
Samardzija has turned it around this year in San Francisco after an inconsistent season with the White Sox last year.
"Cooper took responsilbility for Samaradzija’s troubles last season. Per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Cooper told reporters “Man, I failed”"
Samardzija told Rosenthal:
"“I’m over fighting myself, I’m going to go with what feels natural,” Samardzija recalled thinking. “Sometimes, you’ve got to hit the wall to realize that you’ve got to let go a little bit.”"
According to Samardzija and Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, Samardzija had been tipping his pitches. His turn around happened with the White Sox in the final two starts last season.
After giving up ten runs in three innings to Oakland on September 15, Samardzija was dominant in his last two starts with the White Sox. In 16 innings against Detroit and Kansas City, Samardzija gave up nine hits, two runs with no walks and nine strikeouts. The game against Detroit was a one hit complete game masterpiece.
Pitching was the strength in the 23-10 start. The White Sox had a 2.72 ERA in April. That fell to 4.18 in May and 5.83 in June. A lot of the rise in June can be attributed to Shields. He was torched for ten runs in his last start in San Diego. How much of this can we blame on Shields and how much of this is Cooper not being able to find what Shields is doing wrong?
Cooper has stayed with the White Sox through three managers. He has been the one constant. Having Cooper as pitching coach was supposed to take a lot of the pressure off of the first time managers.
He was successful taking the pressure off Ozzie Guillen. Since the end of 2012, the White Sox pitching has been inconsistent at best. Looking into making a change would give the White Sox pitching staff a new perspective. The new coach might be able to find and fix issues Cooper hasn’t been able to.