I really like the coaching staff that Tony La Russa has put together for the White Sox. When he was hired to manage the team again, I was worried that he would simply get the old band back together and do the same old things he’s been doing since the 1980s. I know somewhere, someone is reading this saying how successful La Russa has been so that would be great for the team. The fact of the matter is the game evolves and baseball ideas and information have advanced tremendously just in the last couple of years, let alone the last couple of decades.
The hire that I’m most interested in, like many others, is that of new pitching coach Ethan Katz. Katz comes to the White Sox with a very interesting background. He famously was Lucas Giolito’s high school pitching coach at Harvard Westlake in California and has been credited with helping transform Giolito from a flailing prospect to one of the premier top-of-the-rotation arms in all of baseball. Katz has spent time in recent years in the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants organizations working with pitchers across various levels of those organizations.
Katz brings a modern flair to the White Sox dugout, something most of us have been clamoring for over the last few years. I think we can all agree that Don Cooper had a tremendous run with this organization and he did a lot of great things helping to mold a pitching program going back to his days as the minor league pitching coordinator before coming to 35th/Shields. However, like many aspects of life outside of sports, sometimes a new voice with new ideas is needed to put an end to a stagnating product. Sure, for much of the last decade the pitching staffs were devoid of representative major league talent, but it is hard to argue that Don Cooper was set in his ways and those two ingredients can be a recipe for disaster.
Katz’s addition has been met with quite a bit of fanfare overall as there is a genuine level of excitement surrounding a guy that has never been the leading voice for an organization’s pitchers. I believe much of this is centered around the fact that Katz appears to be a data-driven individual who is looking to utilize all possible information to get the most out of the talent he has on his staff. His initial media offerings have allowed him to come off as someone that will focus on the individual strengths of his pitchers while looking to camouflage and, in many cases, overcome the deficiencies. It doesn’t appear as though there will be a cookie-cutter approach to how Katz runs his pitching staff, and the belief is that this approach will filter down throughout the organization. This individualized approach is something that has, from the outside, apparently been lacking for several years.
Overall, I’ve been very pleased with what I have heard and read about Katz’s philosophy as I believe it will be, in many respects, a breath of fresh air for the organization. However, I think as a fan base there may be too much faith being put into a guy that hasn’t done the job to this point in his career. He hasn’t put on a White Sox uniform yet and the prevailing belief is that “Coop will fix him” has been replaced with “Katz will fix him”. Now, it’s entirely possible that the White Sox found a gem and that Katz will be one of the preeminent pitching coaches in the game during what is expected to be a window of excellence for the team. The fact of the matter is, however, we don’t know if that will take place. Naturally, he has to have talented arms to be perceived as being successful in his role, and I think there is enough talent to check that box at this moment. It is now incumbent upon Katz to help the pitchers get the most out of themselves.
Initially, Katz’s tenure will be judged on his ability to help Dylan Cease, Carlos Rodon, and Reynaldo Lopez — three former top prospects whose careers have stagnated — become viable members of a major league pitching staff. On top of that, it will be Katz’s task to ensure that Michael Kopech, fresh off a two and a half year absence from competitive pitching, can be the pitcher fans caught a brief glimpse of in 2018 before his elbow exploded. This is no small task for a first-time big-league pitching coach that is employed by a team that has openly said 2021 is “World Series or bust”.
Again, there simply is no assurance that Katz will be able to unlock any of the above pitcher’s hidden potential. Expecting that he will come in and sprinkle some magic pitching dust on them and all will be fixed, simply isn’t realistic. However, if Katz is able to unlock even one of the pitchers I’ve cited as his 2021 projects, I feel confident saying the White Sox will win the American League pennant barring a catastrophic string of injuries. I believe this team has the best bullpen in the American League and a fourth quality starter to go with Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance Lynn would give the White Sox a pitching staff that can’t be matched in the American League.
So is Ethan Katz the man that will turn the tide for the White Sox pitching staff and lead them into the contention window? Unfortunately, we don’t have the answer to that question at this present time. Should he be looked at as a pitching savant capable of fixing any troubled big-league arm? No, not at this juncture. I’m excited to see what he can do, but let’s all take a deep breath here and see if he lives up to the hype.