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The Ever-Volatile Jorge Lopez

Can the Twins fix their mercurial reliever?

Associated Press/David J. Phillip

Some combination of a meteoric rise and fall seems to be what Jorge Lopez does best. His 2023 season has been no different, as he returned to his 2022 All Star form to begin the season, only to have his fortunes turn into a Paganian tragedy. His career as a whole has not been too different, as he has seen a lot of ebbs and flows.

Lopez was a second-round pick of the Brewers in 2011 and emerged as the #59 prospect in Baseball America before the 2016 season. He would bounce back and forth between Triple-A and the MLB largely until he became a member of the Royals in 2018 as a part of the Mike Moustakas trade. In a full season in Kansas City in 2019, Lopez was mostly disastrous, posting an ERA of 6.33 and allowing 27 homers in 123.2 innings. He would eventually be claimed off waivers by Baltimore in 2020 and had another shot at starting full-time in 2021. He would again struggle, as he was battered to an ERA of 6.07 over 121.2 innings.

However, in 2022, Baltimore was able to unlock something in Lopez in the bullpen, as he became an All Star closer for the Birds. He posted a sterling ERA of 1.68 before being traded at the deadline to the Twins, which was of course covered brilliantly here at Twinkie Town. Unfortunately for the Twins, he has shown more flashes of “disaster” than “dominant” recently, and he has turned into the punchline for the question of “how did Baltimore get Yennier Cano?” All hope is not lost, however, but some glaring issues need to be addressed.


Roch Kubatko/MASN

As Baltimore has shown with Cano, they have found ways to unlock bullpen arms and maximize their abilities. For Lopez, a few things changed upon his move to the back end of the Orioles’ bullpen. The first was his pitch mix.

2021: 35.9%
2022: 50.5%
2023: 28.0%

2021: 23.7%
2022: 18.8%
2023: 17.1%

2021: 5.6%
2022: 10.7%
2023: 20.4 %

4-Seam Fastball
2021: 21.1%
2022: 4.5%
2023: 19.9%

As you can see above, Lopez’ best season came after he threw a lot more sinkers/sliders and a lot less 4-seam fastballs. This makes sense, as Lopez’ 4-seam fastball has only registered a negative run value on Statcast one time (negative is good for pitchers!), in 2022 (-1). His 4-seamer has been his biggest detriment in 2023, as he has a +6-run value in only 25 innings pitched this season. A lowered curveball usage is also alarming due to the fact that it was his most effective pitch (-6) by run value in 2022.


Another difference that made Lopez successful was the shape of his sinker, slider, and curveball. Between 2021 and 2022, he was able to add 2+ MPH to both of those pitches while also increasing movement on all three pitches.

Sinker (Vertical Movement/Horizontal Movement)
2021: (-0.3 inches/1.2 inches), 95.3 MPH
2022: (1.3 inches/1.8 inches), 97.7 MPH
2023: (-0.2 inches/1.2 inches) 97.1 MPH

Slider (Vertical Movement/Horizontal Movement)
2021: (-3.0 inches/-3.3 inches), 85.9 MPH
2022: (1.0 inches/3.4 inches), 87.4 MPH
2023: (-0.1 inches/1.4 inches), 88.8 MPH

Curveball (Vertical Movement/Horizontal Movement)
2021: (1.5 inches/-0.3 inches), 81.9 MPH
2022: (3.4 inches/2.5 inches), 84.1 MPH
2023: (2.4 inches/1.3 inches), 84.0 MPH

As you can see above, Lopez’ sinker, slider, and curveballs have reverted closer to their 2021 forms, instead the forms that were much more effective in 2022.


A glaring issue in Lopez’ outings has to do when he gets behind in counts. His first-pitch strike percentage is actually 61.8%, which is slightly higher than the league-average mark of 60.8%. The problem has been getting ahead effectively and closing out hitters.

Opposing SLG by count (league average is .408):
0-0: .667
Lopez ahead in count: .333
Lopez behind in count: .696

Opposing OBP by count (league average is .319)
0-0: .389
Lopez ahead in count: .212
Lopez behind in count: .500

As you can see above, hitters have teed off on the first pitch from Lopez, but if he is able to get ahead, he has been dominant. The first pitch has been full of less-than-desirable outcomes for Lopez, as in the 19 plate appearances that have ended with the 0-0 count, he has hit 3 batters, and allowed 2 homeruns, both on his sinker. In the counts he has fallen behind, Lopez’ 4-seam fastball usage has spiked, as he has used it 32.0% of the time to get back into the count. That has been a rocky road for Lopez, as hitters have hit .429 against his fastball in batter-favorable counts, including posting a slugging percentage of 1.143. This might have to do mostly with the location of those 4-seam fastballs:

Jorge Lopez 4-seam fastball location, batter ahead in count
Baseball Savant/MLB

Long story short, Lopez needs to walk the fine line of throwing a first-pitch strike while also not pouring it into a hittable part of the zone. Once Lopez gets ahead, he is able to mix in his slider/curveball/sinker mix that is much more effective than his 4-seam fastball. If he is to fall behind, Lopez will need to find a way to either avoid his 4-seam fastball or find a way to locate it much better. While this last paragraph probably pertains to every pitcher in the league and may seem painfully obvious, it becomes glaring in the case of Lopez, as he will be depended upon to find the form that made him an All Star in 2022.