One of my favorite moments in Kansas City Royals history after their 2015 World Series win was from Jorge López, actually. On September 8, 2018, López, acquired along with Brett Phillips from the Milwaukee Brewers for Mike Moustakas, stepped to the mound for his fifth start of the year. Lopez tossed eight perfect innings.
Perfect games being so rare, potentially watching a Royal do so made the latter innings of the game must-watch TV. There aren’t even enough perfect games in the history of Major League Baseball for each club to even have one. López didn’t get it done—he walked Max Kepler on five pitches and then surrendered a single to Robbie Grossman immediately afterward, thus also losing his no-hit bid. But it was great entertainment.
Did this game actually happen or did we all just collectively dream it? pic.twitter.com/e9QRqOa95B— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) July 21, 2020
However, when I look at López’s career as a Royal, that is pretty much the only positive moment that I can think of. In the second inning of Tuesday’s exhibition scrimmage against the Houston Astros, Lopez stepped in to relieve Glenn Sparkman with the bases loaded. Lopez couldn’t find the strike zone and promptly hit Jose Altuve and then Alex Bregman with pitches, driving in two runs in the saddest way possible.
SportsCenter seemed to think that, with the Astros cheating scandal being the hottest topic in baseball before Covid-19 happened, such pitches meant something and let loose a wink-wink nudge-nudge tweet about it. Setting aside the silliness of intentionally two players with the bases loaded (and that Alex Bregman defended López on Twitter personally), the crux of the matter is that Lopez is simply a bad MLB pitcher.
López has thrown 189.1 innings over 59 games across four seasons of work. His big league ERA is 5.89, 22% worse than league average over that time. His FIP stands at 5.10. His strikeout and walk rates are pedestrian. As a starter, he is almost impressively awful; over his 130.1 innings as a starter, he sports an ERA of 6.42 and gives up a slash of .295/.361/.513. He’s better as a reliever, but relievers who give up a slash of .272/.339/.417 aren’t very useful anyway.
Perhaps worst of all is López’s minor league track record. It might be the worst because it indicates that this is simply who he is. In 117 innings at Triple-A, the highest level of the minors, Lopez has a 6.31 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of only 1.52. In fact, López has an ERA of 4.34 or higher at every level of professional baseball except Double-A.
This isn’t a hit piece on López. I don’t have anything against López specifically or personally. I don’t hate him. But statistics are what they are, and there is quite literally nothing in Lopez’s professional track record to suggest he will ever be anything more than a mediocre reliever.
But part of López’s position isn’t his fault. The Royals haven’t put him in a position to succeed, which is exclusively in the bullpen, where his raw stuff would play up. We don’t quite know what a full-time bullpen López would look like because the Royals have been, ah, merde totale for the last two years and haven’t had enough warm bodies that were good enough starters to cut it at the MLB level (López included).
I am looking forward to the day that the Jorge López saga mercifully comes to a close, not just because López is a bad pitcher and I dislike watching him groove fastballs down the middle to opposing batters, but because López represents the worst part of rebuilds. When the Royals acquired him in 2018, he was bad. Fair enough. It happens. But then they gave him four times as many innings in 2019 and he even worse, just over more innings. Now, it’s 2020, and the Royals are looking once again going to roster López , hoping that his “stuff” that powered him to an ERA of over six between his Triple-A and big league innings would work this time.
There comes in a point in a rebuild when rebuilding teams stop relying on guys like López and instead start turning to either legitimate prospects, such as Brady Singer, or more intriguing quasi-prospects like Foster Griffin or Tyler Zuber or Gabe Speier or whoever. Hopefully, we’re at that point soon. A new saga—one where pitchers are competent, hitters can hit, and winning happens more than once every three games or so—is overdue.