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Cooper-stown, or Coop de Grace?

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Maybe both

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Sagging stretch: Lauded still by most of the fan base, Don Cooper’s results have flagged in recent years.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For a long time now, being a Chicago White Sox fan has meant that you inevitably wind up talking to yourself. Or at least muttering to yourself.

There are many topics that can bring on the conversation, but one that has had me going for years — and, from what I can tell from comments, virtually no other SSSers — is pitching coach Don Cooper. SSS is full of “Coop’ll fix ’em” references, though I do seem to hear a touch of sarcasm in some of those lately.

Myself has a different take from the many true believers in St. Coop, so I asked him about it.

Myself, Don Cooper is almost always referred to with accolades — great, best, terrific, legendary, whatever. But you seem to disagree.

That’s true. I’m not so sure the worship is warranted.

You’ve got to be kidding. Don’t you remember 2005?

Sure, and like every White Sox fan, I look upon it as a miracle, and plenty of reason for veneration of Coop. Back then, that is.

Damned straight it was a miracle. Look at the closers alone — Shingo Takatsu goes down and in steps Hermanson .. Dustin Hermanson, for crying out loud — and he’s terrific, and he goes down and in comes Bobby Jenks ...

And other relievers like Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts had seasons that could only dream of. Plus, the starters — Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland homegrown, José Contreras with the best year of his life, El Duque dealing while pushing 40 ... it was magic, and the coach was a regular David Cooperfield.

You don’t see all that as worthy of high praise for the pitching coach?

I do. And there were several other impressive seasons around it. But that was then. And then was a long time ago. Sports is about what you’ve done lately, and that’s a very different picture.

What do you mean?

I took a look at team ERA for the last decade, ever since the last year the White Sox made the postseason. The Sox were eighth in the majors in 2009, but after that, no better than 14th. Two years at 14th, all the rest in the bottom half, including years of 25th, 26th and 27th.

Unfair to include the National league, with pitchers batting.

OK. After 2009, the highest AL finish was sixth, in 2016 ... two sevenths, the rest bottom half, on down to 13th. Averaged out worse than eighth of 15 (or, until 2013, 14) for the decade, worse than ninth after 2009.

You’re really showing your age with this ERA thing. And it’s unfair, because the Sox play in a hitter’s park and usually have abominable defense.

I’d defend ERA when it’s used for very large databases, like whole seasons for teams. But you’re right about the stadium and the defense — the White Sox are almost always way down the list in defensive runs saved, way negative, though there have been a couple of exceptions, most notably that 2005 miracle. It’s like the front office doesn’t care if anyone ever catches the ball, especially outfielders.

So you admit you’re wrong?

Not at all. The team’s FIP is, if anything, worse over the years. It was really good in 2010 and 2011 — tops in the league — but after that, seventh in 2016, 10th or worse every other year except 2015. Since 2012, the team’s average was worse than 10th, which is even lower than if you use ERA.

Big break between 2011 and 2012?

Which just happens to be when Ozzie Guillen left as manager. And none of us will know whether part of Ozzie’s falling apart was due to pressure from a Coop d’etat, losing us the best White Sox manager since Al Lopez.

There are lots of other pitching stats.

True. So I looked at one where the stadium and defense don’t factor — walks per nine innings. Again, the Sox were really good through 2011, averaged worse than 12th in the league since, including three years as the worst in all the majors. Doesn’t exactly scream “genius pitching coach.”

What about Sox catchers’ weak framing?

Through 2015, the main catcher was Tyler Flowers, and the pitching stats were about as bad. Those fans who scream about losing Flowers — while forgetting they cringed every time he came to bat, that he couldn’t throw out your grandmother, or catch or even block her pitches — seem to overrate that impact.

Doesn’t mean it’s Coop’s fault. You have to consider the material the front office saddled him with.

Saddled with? Buehrle? Chris Sale? José Quintana? Matt Thornton? David Robertson?

But there have been some bummers. And not just the one with a capital B.

For sure. But how does Coop get a pass on those? If you’re the front office — especially given Kenny Williams’ tightness with Coop — don’t you consult with your legendary pitching coach before you go swimming with the Shark or get carried off on your Shields? Before you draft, say, Carson Fulmer and make all the other draft mistakes? Of course you do. But it doesn’t seem Cooper’s advice was all that sage. Still, fans blame Williams and Rick Hahn, never Teflon Coop.

Unfair to cite Samardzija and Shields.

Why? And please note that both of them got noticeably worse when they came to the Sox, and Shark got immediately better when he left ... don’t know yet on Shields.

Well, sure, but ...

You know what? Let’s look at how pitchers have done coming to the Sox, and after leaving. That gives us a control group, right?

Why do I guess you’ve already done that?

A little. For example, the 2012 staff.

Why 2012? You cherry picking to prove your point?

Just the opposite. It’s midway between 2005 and now, which seems a fair point to pick, and it’s also the last season before the six-year losing streak. Plus Flowers was there. Every advantage is being given to Coop.

Okay, fair enough.

Taking the top 11 listed by Baseball-Reference, and using FIP from the immediate year before they came or after they left, five started with the Sox, four got better when they came, two got worse. That’s 4-2 Coop, not genius, but solid. Trouble is, of the nine who went on to other teams, eight got better on departure. That’s 8-1 against Coop doing a superior job to that of other pitching coaches. Nasty bad.

That’s just one year.

So was 2005. How about 2016, the last season before the rebuild? Sale, Quintana, and Nate Jones are carryovers from 2012, Carlos Rodón neither came nor left. Of the remaining seven, one was a .001 wash coming in, the rest tied 3-3. Leaving, four got better, two got worse, one no record yet, so 2-4. Between the two years, Coop comes out 10-17, which is a pace for a 102-loss season.

Not a nice reference.

Makes Coop look pretty mediocre at best. Can we afford mediocrity — or worse — with all the the young pitchers coming up?

OK, you’ve convinced me Coop doesn’t rate canonization. But Coop de grace?

A coup de grace is intended to put an animal out of its misery. A Coop de grace might do the same thing. Not just to help put the Sox out of some of their misery by getting a new pitching coach, but helping Coop out, too.

What do you mean?

Coop is 63. He’s been coaching in one way or another for the White Sox for 31 years. He’s been in his current position since 2002. That’s a long time in a high-pressure situation. The job isn’t going well lately. Anybody would be bound to be burning out, even in a dream job. I would, you would ...

Me?

For sure. It’s only natural. Why keep him around to get ever more frazzled and keep doing blah work? Give him the big send-off he deserves, a gold watch, pretty speeches, memories of 2005 and a few years beyond that.

Are you sure he’s burned out?

Not at all. Never met him. It could be as the age gap between him and the players grows it’s harder to communicate effectively. Maybe others are doing better analysis of pitching these days. He’s not the healthiest-looking guy you’ve ever seen, so maybe that’s a factor. Could be any number of things — like the Beach Boys’s Little Deuce Coop, where they don’t know what you’ve got — but the results are the same. Coop de grace time.

That will never happen.

No, not with the Sox ownership and management. Never. Just like so many other things never happen.

I guess that’s enough. You realize your position isn’t going to change the minds of those who worship at the altar of St. Coop.

Of course not. White Sox fandom is definitely a faith-based institution.