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|After struggling with Philadelphia, Gavin Floyd has found a comfort zone with the White Sox and pitching coach Don Cooper.|
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Gavin Floyd looks like a pitcher. He's got the archetype down. Tall and lean, with massive hands and a serious mien, he cuts an imposing figure on the mound. But while he looked like he was straight out of central casting as "Ace No. 1," inside he was Woody Allen and George Costanza, a total neurotic.
He used to stress over every pitch and obsess over every mistake. He's gotten a lot better at controlling his fears and taming his brain on the mound. He's learned the hard way, he said, that things just happen, and you move on from there.
Take his wedding, for example. Floyd got married on Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the planning didn't get to him. Neither did the cost or the honeymoon.
Getting ready was a different story.
"I got a bowtie and no one knew how to do a bow tie," the 27-year-old Floyd said at his locker the other day. "So I was a little late to the wedding. We had YouTube [videos of tying a bow tie] going on two phones, we had instructions on one, we had wedding guests come up and try to figure out. My dad's friend came in with shaving cream on his face, no shirt and just shorts, and they finally figured it out."
I can picture the scene, and I can picture his teammates, who live to razz the pitcher, getting on him when they hear about that.
Don't worry about Floyd, though. With his future life in mind, he signed a four-year, $15.5 million deal before the 2009 season. And he honeymooned at the Four Seasons in Costa Rica.
If a hanging bow tie is his biggest problem in 2010, Floyd is in good shape. And for the White Sox to win their division, they'll need Floyd to continue his evolution from prospect to suspect to star.
In the past, B.D.C. (before Don Cooper), when the going got tough, Gavin Floyd was famous for trying, and failing, to be perfect.
"It almost snowballed on me," he said. "That was part of the things that had me going in the wrong direction. Always trying to be perfect."
As his pitching coach Don Cooper sees it, Floyd came to Chicago at war with himself.
It almost snowballed on me. That was part of the things that had me going in the wrong direction. Always trying to be perfect.” -- Gavin Floyd
"When he came over here, long story short, we simplified things for him and now the mental guy is not killing the physical guy," Cooper said. "The physical guy is allowed to come out and play."
The Mental Guy, that voice inside his head that labored on every pitch, is still there. But Floyd doesn't need to devour self-help books, like former Cub Rich Hill did to no avail. He's just dealing with failure and moving past it.
"Those things are always going to be there," he said. "But the way to get past [negative thoughts] is through your experience, your maturity, knowing how to deal with them and eliminate them.
"A guy can throw it down the middle and get an out. You can make a good pitch and they get a hit or something. That's the way the game is. For me, it's knowing what's realistic and being content with effort, rather than results. I felt like I've made big strides. I feel like I'm striving to get better. I've refined a couple things this spring, and I'm going to carry it into the season."
Floyd was the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft in 2001, but by 2006, he had fallen out of favor in the Phillies' organization and was traded for Freddy Garcia in one of Kenny Williams' best trades at the 2006 winter meetings.
I'll never forget the look on his face when he got called up from Triple-A to Chicago in 2007. It was a bad season on the South Side and as Floyd settled into a mostly empty clubhouse while his teammates were stretching, Ozzie Guillen yelled to him, "Welcome to the zoo!" Floyd looked bewildered. What do you say to that? Especially when you having proved anything in baseball yet.
It was a lost season for pretty much everyone in 2007. Floyd went 1-5 with a 5.27 ERA that season, but in 2008, after working with Cooper for his second spring, he started to establish himself as a real player.
"When he was in the National League with Philadelphia, he probably couldn't have been considered a major leaguer," Cooper said. "Was he in the major leagues? Yeah. Was he doing anything? No. Check his record with the White Sox. He's done well here."
Floyd was a revelation his first full season. He went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA in 2008, playing a major role in helping the Sox win the AL Central. Last year his numbers slipped, and he fought through a hip injury at the end, but finished 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA for a losing team with atrocious defense. But if you look closely, he improved.
Despite throwing 13 1/3 fewer innings, and starting three fewer games, than the previous season, he had 18 more strikeouts, 11 fewer walks and gave up 12 fewer hits. According to Fan Graphs, his batting average against was .246 for the second straight season and his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was 1.34, compared with 1.04 in 2008. His WAR (wins above replacement) was 4.5, the 17th-highest number (figured by Fan Graphs) among starting pitchers in all of baseball. (For comparison's sake, Mark Buehrle's WAR was 3.4 and John Danks' 2.9.)
"We're looking for even more improvement from him," Cooper said. "We're looking for a stronger season from him. Let me tell you something, if he has another good year, as far as I'm concerned, he's in the top third of American League pitchers."
Floyd, of course, doesn't have to carry the staff. This White Sox team is pitching-rich, provided everyone stays healthy.
"I don't think there's anyone here that someone could think they can take a breather and get some runs," Floyd said. "We have a real strong bullpen and a strong starting five."
Floyd is nothing like Buehrle or Danks, two chilled-out lefties. But Floyd likes watching Jake Peavy pitch. While Floyd used to internalize his frustrations, Peavy wears his on his face. And he wins. It's something to emulate.
"Whenever he misses a pitch, he tells himself that he needs to make that pitch this time," Floyd said. "He's as passionate as anybody in this league."
Floyd will never be the most passionate guy in any league. But just by being himself, and trusting his ability, Floyd could fully realize his potential this season. And just maybe, learn how to tie his own ties.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.