The perennial words of one of the best characters in television history:
This should be the path moving forward for Jorge López. We know this because of his performance in the 2019 season.
López began the 2019 season as part of the starting rotation along with Brad Keller and Jakob Junis. Prior to his elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery, Salvy said that López had the best stuff on the team and thought he was poised to take the next step in his career and become a staple to the Royals rotation.
Through his first five starts, it looked like there was something to that statement. He averaged six innings with a 4.50 ERA, 8.70 K/9, and 2.70 BB/9. That’s not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not nothin’. If he were able to stay in that range through the entire season, the fan base is ready to accept López as a rotation piece moving forward. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Over his next 5 starts, Lopez posted a line of 9.97 ERA, 8.31 K/9, and 4.98 BB/9 while averaging just under 3IP per outing. That, in fact, IS nothin’. That is precisely nothin’. In that run, López’s biggest flounder of the year occurred in a start at Houston. Yes, that Houston. Where, I can only assume (and not back up with any evidence whatsoever) they were beating López because they were cheating (allegedly). That’s the only reason why he’d give up 6 ER via 6 hits, 3 walks, and 3 dongs over 2 1⁄3 innings. His HR/FB was hilariously 100% in that game. This stretch ultimately got him placed into the, also struggling, bullpen, where he’d make his next 18 appearances.
Most of these appearances came in mop-up duty/to eat innings. Across those 18 games, he was brought in in high leverage situtations twice. In this mostly mop-up role, López posted largely the same as he did in his first 5 starts: 8.54 K/9 and 2.76 BB/9 with a yucky 5.23 ERA. No, that is not great. On the bright side, his xFIP over that time was 4.30 and looking at the Fangraphs range of FIP rating, that is not “awful” and it’s not “poor”. It’s simply “below average”. #SilverLining
This takes us past the MLB trade deadline, where the Royals sent Homer Bailey’s production to the Bay Area and López was given some spot starts in August to go along with some more mop-up duty appearances. López’s production remained gross through that month posting a 9.22 ERA, 9.88 K/9, and a 4.61 BB/9 but staying consistent in the xFIP category of 4.30. Between injuries, other poor pitching performances, and management deciding it was time to see what they have in López in a “Can’t Lose” vacuum situation, they shifted López back to the starting rotation, where he finished the season.
His first start of September came against the Miami Marlins, where López fired six shutout innings while striking out five and walking none. He even followed that up with an adequate start in the South Side, going 5 1⁄3 innings and giving up two earned runs. And after that game Lopez made a start in Oakland against the playoff bound A’s where he went six innings of two-run ball, striking out four and walking one. I was ready to buy into this performance so I rostered him in my fantasy baseball playoffs.
His next two starts were both against the, also playoff bound, Minnesota Twins and Lopez was shelled like a November pecan bound for a Thanksgiving pie (Happy Thanksgiving to you). In those two starts, Lopez combined to go 8 1⁄3 innings giving up 11 earned runs, 14 hits, and 5 jacks. In this stretch, his K/9 plummeted to 4.91 but his BB/9 did too (1.40). He still posted a 5.26 and an xFIP of 5.65. xFIPers would consider that awful and I think we can all agree with that.
At the end of the day, it sure seems like we learned that if López is deserving of a roster spot in 2020, that spot should be in the pen. As a reliever in 2019, López had a bloated 5.79 ERA to go with a decent K/9 (9.2) and average BB/9 (2.7). All of those numbers are an improvement compared to his numbers as a starter (6.57 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9). And if you’re like me and you value xFIP as an overall pitcher production stat, his xFIP as a reliever was 3.98 compared to 5.18 as a starter. Of the 249 relievers that pitched in at least 35 innings of relief, López’s 3.98 xFIP was the 72nd best. That is average in every sense of the word and that has value.
Now that we know what lane López needs to be in, it’s time to redirect his development in that direction. If his stuff is as electric as Salvy thinks it is, it should play nicely in a bullpen that is already pretty bad. So let’s use 2020 as a season to head that direction; throw Lopez in the pen and see what you’ve got. Enough with this half-assing; let’s whole-ass it!
What grade would you give Jorge Lopez for his 2019 season?
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