I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and saw a graph roll through my timeline regarding Royals pitcher Jorge Lopez. Lopez, who came over in the Mike Moustakas trade last sumer, really impressed me in his brief time with KC in 2018. I believe he ought to be the Royals’ fifth starter when the team breaks from spring training, and that belief began to gain some traction as I started doing more digging.
I certainly do not recommend following Drake on Twitter, as he tweets far too often about his love of Nickelback and pop country, but this graph really got me thinking (I’m kidding, Drake and I are good friends and Drake is a great follow for Royals fans).
So what are some things that we notice about Jorge Lopez’ pitch arsenal graph from the 2018 season? For starters, Lopez was using his curveball nearly 20% less often when he left Milwaukee than he had been in the middle of the season. Then when he arrived in Kansas City, his curveball use saw an uptick. At the same time, Lopez started using his sinker far more and his four-seam fastball far less.
What gives? A simple trip over to Jorge Lopez’ FanGraphs page begins to tell part of the story. According to FanGraphs’ pitch value information, Jorge Lopez’ sinker was significantly better than his four-seam fastball in 2018, and his curveball was a tick better than his slider. So that sounds pretty simple, right? Throw your most effective pitches more often and you should (theoretically) find more success.
This information was not somehow hidden from the Brewers front office and coaching staff. I think there is clearly some rhyme or reason that Lopez was beginning to ditch his curveball in Milwaukee, I just don’t know what it is. I went to Baseball Savant and tried to see if there was anything I was missing, and I must be. In his time with Kansas City, Lopez kept his slider out of the middle of the plate better than his curveball. His slider also rated better than his curveball in Kansas City, which means his curveball must have actually outperformed his slider in his time in Milwaukee.
Yet the curveball was the breaking pitch of choice for Lopez in his time with Kansas City. If you just glance at the graph that Drake tweeted, and don’t do any studying, you can pretty quickly tell that there is a lot going on. Throwing five pitches in the big leagues is a really tough battle, and Lopez has pretty well done it throughout his career. Despite all of the different pitches that Lopez throws, his K/9 in 2018 was only 6.37. You would expect a larger number from a guy with five pitches and throws 94 mph on a regular basis.
As I get to this point in the writing of this article, I stumbled upon Jeffrey Flanagan’s inbox over at MLB.com.
Great timing. Someone on Twitter asked Flanny who the Royals biggest surprise would be in 2019, and Flanny goes on to explain how high he is on Jorge Lopez. Also that he thinks Lopez will round out the Royals rotation in 2019.
I completely agree. There is one thing that Flanny mentioned however that I think Lopez needs to fix, and I think that’s a simplification of his pitch arsenal. Flanny mentioned Lopez’ wide variety of “out” pitches, and while that may sound like an obvious positive, I think Lopez could actually benefit from throwing fewer types of pitches.
I took a visit to Jorge Lopez’ Baseball Savant page and found something striking: Jorge Lopez’ release point is all over the place. I believe that many of Lopez’ control problems can be attributed to a wild release point, and I believe that simplifying his pitch arsenal could help simplify his release point. Simplify the arsenal, create a more consistent release point, improve command. Boom.
Of course, it’s never that simple. Pitchers are often reluctant to give up on a pitch and in the case of Jorge Lopez, his possession of potentially four to five “plus” pitches could be seen as an asset moving forward. In any case, there isn’t a single option that the Royals currently possess that offers more upside in the fifth spot in the rotation than Jorge Lopez. He needs to be given the chance to prove himself to begin the 2019 season, and if he can improve his command issues even a little bit, the Royals could have a bona fide middle-of-the-rotation starter on their hands.
Who should be the fifth starter for the Royals?
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