KC Royals: Only the scenery changed for Jorge Lopez

Inconsistency forced the KC Royals to drop Jorge Lopez, but changing teams changed little.

The KC Royals resolved the quandary that was Jorge Lopez last summer. The club released their mystifying young pitcher and he signed on with Baltimore a few days later. But for Lopez, a remarkably inconsistent performer, the outcome seemed inevitable no matter the venue.

And it was. Lopez’s scenery changed, but not his results.

To fully understand Lopez’s situation is to appreciate how inconsistency and unpredictability impact a player, even one who, like Lopez, presents with an abundance of potential. In his case, that potential took the form of spectacular stuff. Such stuff, however, doesn’t guarantee big league success and only matters when it manifests itself frequently; unfortunately, Lopez flashed great stuff only sporadically, and that was his undoing with the KC Royals.

When he was good, he was very, very good. Take the game he pitched at Minnesota late in the 2018 season, not that long after he’d been acquired from the Brewers for Mike Moustakas. His stuff spellbinding and virtually untouchable, Lopez carried a perfect game into the ninth inning only to lose it, and a next-best-thing no-hitter, to the first two Twins he faced that frame. The performance was rooted far deeper in talent than luck.

Lopez had good games, but others were too often awful. He lost his first three games after becoming a Royal, then won his next with an eight-strikeout, one-run, seven-inning effort before twirling his near-perfect game, then promptly cratered in his next two by giving up three runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings and, in his final appearance of 2018, seven runs in just one inning.

That was the way it was for all of Lopez’s Kansas City tenure, a two-calendar year stay best described as a scary roller-coaster ride. He was Ned Yost’s pitching yo-yo in 2019, caroming back and forth between the bullpen (21 games) and the starting rotation (18 games) but excelling in neither. No matter where Lopez pitched, he gave up too many runs—a high 6.57 ERA as a starter wasn’t much better than his 5.79 as a reliever. He was a pitching mystery, a hurler unable to harness his stuff-based potential long enough to stake a sustainable major league claim.

Perhaps it was unfortunately fitting, then, that Lopez’s short KC Royals career ended in much the same way it started. Toronto roughed him up for six runs on eight hits in 4.2 innings in his first Kansas City outing, and Cleveland tagged him for a pair of runs on three hits in less than an inning of relief in his only Royal appearance last season. Lopez, mentioned during the offseason as a potential member of the 2020 rotation, was designated for assignment just days later and claimed off of waivers by the Orioles.

He pitched nine times for Baltimore before the short season concluded. His first three appearances were in relief, his last six came as starts. He gave up seven runs in eight innings across his first two games and pitched a scoreless frame in his third and final relief stint; then, in his first start, he surrendered three runs in 4.2 innings.

The Yankees touched Lopez for three unearned runs in five innings his next time out before the Mets hit him for five runs in 4.2 innings. A good game followed when he held Atlanta to a run in a seven-frame start, and he gave up three in six in his next outing.

His final 2020 start was eerily similar to that last horrible 2018 outing with the Royals: Lopez was hammered for eight runs in two innings. He went 2-2 with a 6.34 ERA for the Orioles, a record grounded once again in inconsistency and the elusive nature of his occasionally stellar stuff.

So, nothing has really changed for Lopez. He’ll be eligible for arbitration after this coming season; a good payday will be his if he can shed the inconsistency.

The KC Royals dropped Jorge Lopez last summer. His scenery changed when he joined Baltimore, but his results stayed the same.