Be Excited For Pablo Lopez by Michael Simione September 8, 2020 The 2021 draft season will be interesting, to say the least. There has been an abundance of surprises when it comes to starting pitchers. For instance, Zach Davies, Corbin Burnes, Dallas Keuchel, Framber Valdez, and Adam Wainwright all have a sub-three ERA. What’s going to be strenuous for 2021 is figuring out who is “real” and who isn’t. How do we do that? Well, there are several factors such as a pitch mix change, movement changes on pitches, and velocity. With all that said there’s (at least) one pitcher performing well who seems to be legit. That pitcher is Pablo Lopez. Hop in the Delorean and turn back time to Pablo Lopez’s 2019 season. Overall he pitched 111.1 innings manufacturing a 5.09 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 14.5 K-BB%. Clearly nothing to look at and no obvious reason to be excited heading into 2020. But the thing is Lopez had an injury in 2019 and before that injury he put up some impressive numbers. From April to June Lopez had a 4.23 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 3.97 xFIP, and 17.5 K-BB%. Those numbers include a bad blowup against the Mets where he let up 10 runs. Imagine his numbers without that one blowup? In 34 innings after the injury, he had a 7.01 ERA, 5.87 FIP, 5.25 xFIP, and 8.4 K-BB%. Lopez didn’t look like Lopez and that second half really hurt his overall numbers. Okay, let’s reach 88 mph and come back to 2020, where Lopez has put together a 3.05 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and 18.0 K-BB% in seven starts. Impressive right? But the question we began with was -is it legit? We already presented Lopez’s numbers from last year when healthy. While the 4.23 ERA and 3.57 FIP are great, what changes have brought his ERA to .50 below his first half last year and almost a full run lower on his FIP? Naturally, it’s the good ole pitch mix change we love to talk about. Lopez took his best pitch from last year and decided to throw it more than any other pitch in his repertoire. Not only that but he decided to try and make hitters chase this pitch. His Zone% has shifted from 45.1% in 2019 to 37.4% so far this season. As a result, his changeup’s O-Swing% has risen from 42.4% to 47.7%. What makes this pitch so pronounced is its above-average vertical and horizontal movement. Against right-handed hitters it starts off over the middle of the plate and as it approaches it breaks down and in on the batter making it virtually unhittable. Pablo López, Filthy 3 Pitch K Sequence (all changeups). 👌👌👌 pic.twitter.com/W6Maru2o51 — Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 15, 2020 Moving down Lopez’s arsenal to his sinker, a sinker that works insanely well with his changeup. His sinker has the same exact movement as his changeup, down and in. Except he throws this at 94 mph. The result? Hitters unable to identify which pitch is being thrown at them and a sinker that has 45 wRC+ against, 67.6 GB%, and 5.3 pVAL. Lopez relying more on the sinker and changeup has been the key to his success. Last year he leaned on his four-seam and while it does produce an above-average amount of whiffs it was always a weak point. He has issues commanding it and in terms of vertical rise, it is below average. That being said, having his four-seam as a third option works well because it can be used as a nice change of pace and his 16.4 SwStr% shows how it catches hitters off guard. In fact, that SwStr% ranks fourth amongst all starting pitchers on four-seam fastballs. With great pitches come even better results. So far this season Lopez is well above average in just about every important statistic. He is above league average in O-Swing%, K-BB%, and SwStr%. Most notably his O-Swing% is five points higher than league average, a result of what was mentioned earlier. He is throwing that changeup out of the zone more and hitters are consistently chasing it. What’s impressive with Lopez is not only the strikeout potential but the weak contact he is inducing. Among qualified starters, Lopez ranks third in terms of GB% at 59.6%, he is top ten in xwOBAcon, deserved Barrel%, and top 15 in ISO. We now have a pitcher with a prominent three-pitch arsenal, high strikeout potential, and induces weak contact. Let me ask you, who does this remind you of? A pitcher with a GB% over 50%, a very good changeup with above-average movement, and strikeout potential. The answer is Luis Castillo. Lopez reminds me of a slightly worse Luis Castillo and next year in drafts he will certainly be undervalued. At age 24 Lopez has plenty of time to grow and become even more of a complete pitcher. Everyone should be excited.