Jorge Lopez has shown he can not handle being a starting pitcher. He now needs to show that he can become a reliable arm out of the bullpen.
Jorge Lopez has big-league stuff. His fastball sits around 95 and routinely gets up to 97, especially when he is coming out of the bullpen. He has an above-average curveball as an out pitch. He is durable enough to have thrown over 90 innings every season since he was 20 years old.
Jorge’s struggles come from his command issues. Lopez has always had issues being able to hit the glove where the catcher sets it. When he is placing his fastball properly, his above-average secondary pitches keep everyone guessing. The issue is that too often it is his catcher that is kept guessing about where the next pitch may go.
In addition to his impressive curveball, Lopez also possesses an above-average changeup. But his control issues seem even more consistent when it comes to his changeup. And he leaves too many up where they can be hit. Hard.
We have worse starting pitchers than Jorge Lopez. But that is more an indictment of our current roster than it is a reason to keep forcing Lopez into the rotation. His FIP as a starter in 2019 was 6.16. Woof. But as a reliever, he was at 4.15. His strikeouts per 9 innings went from 7.4 as a starter to over 9 when he went to the bullpen. That looks like a bright spot to me.
Lopez was stung by home runs last season. He gave up over 2 per 9 innings. Some of that is bad luck. But some of that is also his secondary pitches having less of an effect the second time through a batting order. Also, his command beginning to slip his second time through an order.
There is a very good argument to be made that Lopez, with his secondary pitches, could make a very nice opener in the right situation. Let him get through a few innings and then bring in a workhorse type pitcher. But what are the chances that Mike Matheny and the Royals are going to try using openers this season? Less than zero percent?
The bullpen is the place where Lopez needs to be for the Royals in 2020. He can survive as a reliever even when he only has two above-average pitches without trying to throw the changeup when he just does not have it. And on days when his fastball is all over the plate, his damage can be kept to a minimum.
Frankly, Lopez still needs to show he can handle the bullpen consistently. He is now a 27-year-old pitcher with a career WHIP over 1.5. He has the talent to become a real back of the bullpen weapon. But first, he needs to show us in 2020 that he can become a reliable big-league pitcher.