Those who know me understand that I enjoy watching pitchers experiment and dive into it when it happens. Often they are irrelevant, failing to prevent the tires from spinning in the mud. There are exceptions, as always, and I find it interesting to point out possible exceptions before they are illuminated to the masses.
So today I want to talk about a pitcher that I wouldn’t actually suggest chasing in 12-teamer. Reynaldo Lopez’s 4.51 ERA and 1.36 WHIP with a 17.3% K rate are enough to turn anyone away while his FIP and SIERA are even worse, each with marks over 5.00. Even cherry picking his last six games returns a 4.28 ERA. Things aren’t great for Reynaldo Lopez.
Something peculiar did happen in his last start, though. It was a strong 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks effort against the Yankees and it may have been a result of some tweaking in Lopez’s repertoire. I want to tell you about it.
First, let’s take a look at this table showing off his pitch usage through the season:
|Timeframe||Fastball Usage||Changeup Usage||Slider Usage||Curveball Usage|
|First 26 games||61.3%||14.6%||19.3%||4.7%|
Weird, right? Out of nowhere, Lopez elected to throw plenty of curveballs and changeups while pulling back on his fastball.
You would think that I’m ecstatic about Lopez’s massive fastball reduction given its poor pVal of -5.2 this year, but I’m actually a big fan of his fastball. It comes in near 95 mph and he does a great job of elevating it while busting both left-handers and right-handers up-and-in constantly. Here’s a good example of generating outs with the pitch from Wednesday’s game against Greg Bird:
There’s something to be said that its pVal is -5.2 across 1500+ thrown. It’s been slightly underperforming over a long time. This isn’t your Chad Kuhl changeup.
The main problem with the heater has been a lack of strong secondary pitches to complement it…and that’s the catalyst for this article. I’ve been waiting all season for Reynaldo to express two strong secondary pitches in a single start and his August 29th performance showcased that, just not the two pitches I anticipated.
Now, I don’t believe his display warrants an instant pickup, that Lopez is cured and is ready to become a consistent arm for your staff. At the same time, I can’t help but become a bit curious when not only do I see a heavy dependency on secondary pitches, but success follow the new approach.
So let’s talk about those two pitches, a curveball and changeup. After barely using his curveball since last season, here’s how it looked against the Yankees:
These were my favorite two of the night, located both under the zone while looking like a strike for a while. Both Greg Bird and Austin Romine were caught on their front foot, committed to fastballs coming in 20mph harder.
Not all deuces looked this – many floated in or out of the zone and lacked the location or hard break – and I’m not sold that the above GIFs are the true representation of Lopez’s hook. Still, it has been a while since he’s featured the pitch and there may be something to this if he continues its relatively high usage.
Next is his changeup:
I love seeing the confidence to throw a change in a 3-2 count to a like-handed batter and Lopez did a good job overall keeping the ball low in the zone. It’s not the overwhelming “money pitch” changeup that would elevate him to the higher tiers of starters, but as long as this pitch is constantly in his backpocket, it should be an effective weapon.
With these two pitches in mind, there’s a reason I think this could work well. Lopez’s fastball averages 95.5mph for the season, with his changeup at 83.5mph, slider at 83.8mph, and curveball at 75.9mph. I’m generally a fan of having three pitches at three distinctly different speeds and moving from a hard slider to a slower curveball may provide an extra layer of difficulty for hitters. When expecting a secondary pitch, a large velocity gap in changeup and breaking ball might prove beneficial.
This is ignoring the fact that his slider was still in play during the game and wasn’t executed poorly. Here’s a fantastic slider he threw to fan Austin Romine:
And this is how I think this could be an effective approach. Focus on curveballs and changeups with sliders as an extra chase pitch in his back pocket. Fastballs can dominate the zone and induce quick outs, curveballs and changeup as mix-ups, and then sliders reserved as the surprise finishing blow. This works.
I don’t see this fantastic start against the Yankees carrying into September – Lopez has made a name for himself as an inconsistent starter, featuring plenty of clunkers and moments of bliss. However, this is a distinct change in approach and it’s possible he takes steps in the right direction through the end of the year that could promise a stronger 2019 season ahead. There may still be hope that he turns into a dependable backend starter in the near future.