The KC Royals are likely deploying right-hander Jorge López out of the bullpen in 2020. He hasn’t delivered as a starter, but hopefully a permanent home as a middle reliever increases his confidence moving forward.
On a hot evening at Kauffman Stadium in July, Jorge López was asked to accomplish a complicated task. The Royals were already 30 games under .500, which meant that neither López nor the KC Royals had much to lose.
It was the third inning, and Danny Duffy enjoyed a 2-1 lead when he was inadvertently hit on the hand by a line drive, and appeared to lose his sharpness as the Detroit Tigers capitalized and immediately scored two runs off the left-hander, and had runners on second and third with nobody out.
Pitching coach Cal Eldred paid a visit to the mound to check up on Duffy who insisted on being fine, until Ned Yost appeared from the bullpen to yank the starter against his wishes as he understandably didn’t want to take any chances with Duffy’s pitching hand, and based on the inning’s outlook, the Royals primed themselves for another digit under the loss column (Duffy went on to make his next start).
Yost signaled for Jorge López to try to clean up the mess, but it’s interesting to imagine what was actually going through the manager’s brain. Was the expectation that López would just have one of those games where the other team feasts off his pitches? Was it anywhere near the realm of possibilities that he would get out of that situation with minimal damage done, and ultimately give the team a chance to win the game?
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Once again, there were runners on second and third with nobody out. The first Tiger grounded to first base on what should’ve have been a routine grounder, but first baseman Cheslor Cuthbert misplayed it, was charged with an error, and the runner scored.
No harm, no foul for López, but now the score was 4-2, and there were runners on first and third – still no outs. López struck out the next batter with a nasty curveball down-and-in, and got the following batter to ground into a double play. Damage minimized, and López made his way into the dugout with a big smile on his face.
He pitched two more scoreless innings while showcasing his mid-90s fastball, and explosive curveball that tends to disappear altogether from the batter’s reach. It was a rare night for celebration, as he certainly didn’t have many of those during the 2019 campaign.
His situation is difficult to explain as most experts agree that López’s arsenal contains above average “stuff.” According to FanGraphs, López throws fastballs at a 55% rate, which isn’t terrible, but he may need to vary his slider/curveballs at a higher rate. Currently, he throws the curveball at a 31% rate, and the slider at 7%. It’s not too difficult to guess what pitches he’s going to throw.
Lopez’s pitches have also been flying off hitters bats at an incredible rate. His Home Run to Fly Ball (HR/FB) rate doubles that of the league averages (20.6% and league average hovers around 10%), as he allowed 27 dingers in only 39 pitching appearances. Fangraphs suggests that pitchers with a high HR/FB rate are bound to regress towards league average, let’s hope that’s the case for Jorge.
Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs project the following numbers for López during the 2020 campaign (I’ve added my projections below as well, in the APO section):
BR: 5-7, 5.50 ERA, 2 Saves, 99 Ks, 39 BBs, 20 HRs, 1.41 WHIP
FG: 6-7, 4.88 ERA, 3 Holds, 94 Ks, 41 BBs, 1.42 WHIP
APO: 5-3, 3.95 ERA, 3 Saves, 110 Ks, 40 BBs, 1.29 WHIP
If you’ve read any of my articles, then you’re familiar with my blind optimism for the 2020 Kansas City Royals, and this piece is no different. These are high expectations for Jorge López, but a consistent bullpen role that’s neither the closer nor the setup man will help his confidence, and hopefully he can play around with his stellar arsenal without appearing in many pressure situations.
López had a fantastic winter in Puerto Rico where he posted a 2-1 record, with a 2.81 ERA, 12 Ks, 4 BBs, and 1.18 WHIP, while allowing zero(!) Home Runs in eight appearances mainly out of the bullpen as a middle reliever.
Jorge López’s “stuff” is too electric for it not to materialize at the Major League level. Here’s hoping that López can finally put it all together, and become a solid weapon in what promises to turn into a semi-decent bullpen for the 2020 Royals.