What Do We Have Here?
The time is drawing nearer for the White Sox to make a determination on what they have with Lopez and where he fits going forward as this team hopefully enters its contention window.
Full disclosure, I’m not particularly high on Reynaldo Lopez at this point. Through almost two and a half seasons with the White Sox, Lopez has been a remarkably average Major League starter. When he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the famous Adam Eaton deal in December 2016, we all hoped his potential would lead him to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for years to come. Many scouting reports questioned his spotty command and pondered if he would be best suited as a high-leverage reliever. As the Sox begin their transition to contention, I’m seemingly on an island with few people who believe he shouldn’t be handed his rotation spot for 2020. Many people still believe there is untapped potential with Lopez and that he can be that quality front-of-the-rotation starter, but history says otherwise at this point.
Through 79 career starts, Lopez is sporting the following stat line:
This is a remarkably average line for a starter today. We see glimpses of Lopez’s upside, like the game against Detroit this past April where he struck out 14 in eight innings of work. However, he all too often follows those outings with lapses in focus, causing him to have performances like the one in Atlanta this past August where he was able to record just two outs while surrendering six earned runs. I’ve affectionately referred to Lopez as Javier Vazquez 2.0, which brings back some bad memories for those of us who saw Little Game Javy for three seasons at 35th/Shields.
So, can Lopez get to the potential we all saw when he was acquired or is this simply what we are dealing with going forward? Using the Play Index from BaseballReference.com, I searched for starters with relatively similar stat lines to Lopez from their age 22 through 25 seasons. I narrowed it down to starters that had at least 65 starts and a 4.50 ERA or higher. 72 such pitchers populated the list, and it was, as suspected, a list filled with a lot of mediocre to bad starters.
Names like Kyle Lohse, Kyle Davies, Jeff Suppan, and Homer Bailey were all over this list. Those are not the types of names we want to see associated with a guy that was a key part of the return from the Nationals a few winters ago. However, in this list, we also find a couple of names that could prove to be best-case scenarios for improvement with Lopez. Two names eventually turned into quality, All-Star-caliber pitchers in the Major Leagues.
Would anyone be upset if Reynaldo Lopez turned into Chris Carpenter or Jason Schmidt? I know I wouldn’t be. As you see, Lopez rates out very comparably to Schmidt and slightly better than Carpenter, although that is largely due to the latter’s disastrous 2000 season in Toronto. From 2004-2011, Carpenter averaged 3.4 fWAR/year, peaking at 6.3 fWAR in 2005. Carpenter had four seasons in which he amassed at least 4.5 fWAR during this stretch. Schmidt on the other hand, from 1997-2006 averaged 3.6 fWAR/year, peaking at 6.6 in 2003 with the San Francisco Giants. During his peak stretch, Schmidt had three seasons of at least 4.5 fWAR. Those would be fabulous outcomes for Lopez if he could approach that level of production for this team.
Those are best-case scenarios as a starter. If the scouts that thought Lopez was ultimately destined for the bullpen are right, there’s another best-case scenario for a guy that was an average starter that turned into a dominant reliever. That player is none other than a former player on the other side of town, Wade Davis. Below, we’ll compare Davis’ numbers as a starter for parts of three years in Tampa and one season in Kansas City to Lopez:
Davis had a little higher volume in terms of GS and IP, but the rest of the numbers are very comparable. When Davis shifted to the bullpen, however, he turned into a beast, as his numbers below demonstrate:
Could this be the type of uptick we see from Lopez if he were to shift to the bullpen and just air it out for an inning at a time? While a high-leverage reliever isn’t as valuable as a starting pitcher (thanks Captain Obvious), this would still be an acceptable outcome for Lopez. The question remains, can his low spin rate/poor command combination play up in the bullpen more than it has in the rotation to this point? I don’t have the answer for that, but Davis could serve as a reasonable outcome for Lopez if his time as a starter is reaching its conclusion.
I’ve been very outspoken on my distrust of Lopez going forward, particularly for a team that is vowing to contend in 2020. I don’t believe he deserves to be handed his rotation spot going forward if this team can replace him with better alternatives. With that being said, if he was to make adjustments to his repertoire or things like his arm slot to improve his effectiveness, pitchers like Schmidt or Carpenter could prove to be ceilings for the young Dominican fireballer. Ultimately, the time is drawing nearer for this organization to make a determination on what they have with Lopez and where he fits going forward as this team hopefully enters its contention window.
Featured Photo: Carlos Osorio/AP Photo