Michael Kopech’s 24 starts this season can be broken into five basic groupings.
Groups 1, 3 and 5 were all very strong stretches of pitching, ending on the 10-start run Kopech started on June 25 that punched his ticket to the majors.
In-between, there were short stretches where Kopech lost his focus, touch, or just ran into some tough luck.
Let’s drill down into each group and see what they yield.
Group 1: Easing into the season
Kopech ended his spring training audition with the big club on a sour note, so he should have placed some additional importance on starting strong in Charlotte. He accomplished that, with four above-average starts, with game scores averaging 62. His strikeouts per walk was strong (4.1), as was his hits per game (3.5). He also was throwing just about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes (66.9%).
Group 2: First setback
This is just a mini-set of three games, the first two of which are just a smidge worse than average (which is a 50 game score). The ballast for this stretch was Kopech’s first truly bad outing of the season, on May 11 vs. the Durham Bulls. It would become the only game he was knocked out of (yanked with one out in the fourth), after giving up eight earned runs on just five hits (two homers), with some wildness (four walks, six Ks, only 46 of 87 pitches for strikes). For the stretch of all three games, Kopech had just 1.5 strikeouts per walk, four innings per game, and 4.1 earned runs per game, for an average game score of 39.
Group 3: Bounce-back
It’s another small sample size, but the headliner here is Kopech’s bounce-back game on May 18 at the Columbus Clippers — his first win of the season, in eight tries! With just two hits and two walks over seven innings, with nine whiffs, Kopech attained what would be his top game score (80) of 2018. He kept the momentum going with strong efforts in his next two games as well, giving him a three-game game score average of 65, three strikeouts per walk, and just three hits per six-inning start.
This is the stretch that warranted serious consideration for call-up. Through Kopech’s first 10 games, and with the big club’s rotation in flux with Carson Fulmer and Lucas Giolito flareups, the fireballer had suffered just one poor start.
Kopech’s totals through his first 10 starts of the season: 51 innings, 36 hits, 22 earned runs, 3.88 ERA, 25 walks, 68 strikeouts and an average game score of 55.9.
Group 4: Slump
Even calling this a slump isn’t really fair. The anchor here is Kopech’s worst start of the season, June 2 at the Buffalo Bisons, where he lasted just two innings and was crushed for seven earned, ending with a 16 game score. But of the four games in this stretch, two were actually above average.
The balance of June was an uneven stretch for Kopech. It was here where folks started taking sides: Either Kopech was “bored” by his International League competition, or having three blowout starts in 14 games was somehow proof of the wisdom of holding the 22-year-old down for additional Triple-A starts.
During this slump, however, Kopech had more walks (21) than strikeouts (20), averaged just four innings per start, sported a 9.00 ERA and threw just 49% of his pitches for strikes.
Rationalize however you wish, but still, two of these four starts were better than average. This early-June stretch could easily have come in Chicago, for better and worse.
Group 5: Stretch run to Chicago
Well, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or solving service-time puzzles in your spare moments, you are well familiar with Kopech’s blistering June through August. The Rick Hahn-Ken Williams brain trust is fond of rewarding players who “force their hands,” and Kopech’s forcing came in the form of a balled fist, ready to rear back and strike someone in the suite class.
Or, to hear Kopech say it, just two days before his promotion:
"I'm ready to come to Chicago, but I'm not at the airport yet."— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) August 18, 2018
-- Michael Kopech with a laugh about when he will be called up
Over these last 10 games, Kopech threw 68% of his pitches for strikes and averaged a 63 game score (with three games in the 70s). He threw 59 innings, with 49 hits, 14 earned, and 82 Ks against 14 walks. That’s a 1.07 WHIP. A 2.14 ERA. An impressive 5.9 whiffs per walk. Slice it up however you like, Kopech is ready.
And tonight, in front of a ribald South Side crowd that’s been desperately seeking a beam of light to strike them just as white-hot as it did Joliet Jake some four decades ago, we’ll see just how ready.