The best stretch of the White Sox’ miserable season collapsed quite quickly, culminating with the news that Michael Kopech had torn his UCL and would not pitch for the White Sox again until 2020. For the thousandth time, it seems, I find myself saying, “With the caveat that wins and losses don’t matter this year…” there were certainly positive developments in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Angels. Reynaldo Lopez threw six shutout innings, allowing only two hits and walking three, while striking out ten. It’s been a mixed year for Lopez, as his 4.22 ERA is prettier than his peripherals would indicate. DRA and FIP both see him as essentially identical to his 2017 self on the whole, which makes sense given that he allows lots of home runs, walks a lot of batters, and only strikes out an okay amount of them.
But if we step back, we can see progress in Lopez’ season, which indicates he may be a mid-rotation starter as soon as next year after all. After all, most observers agreed Lopez was ready as a shutdown reliever even before he was traded to Chicago. Among the many things his doubters expressed was whether he could hold up to a starter’s workload and hold his velocity in the process. We’re now in his second full year as a starting pitcher, and he can certainly hold his velocity. He averages somewhere between 95-97 mph on his four seam fastball whether it’s the 1st inning or the 9th or anywhere in between. He averaged somewhere between 95-97 mph on his four seam fastball in every month of the season, whether it was April or September. He’s on pace to throw about 180 innings, which, in the modern game, is about as much as you can hope for any starter, as the numbers who clear the 200 inning mark dwindles year after year. Qualitatively, as the season has progressed, we’ve seen him progress in his command of his offspeed pitches, and explicitly state that he has been learning that he can trust those pitches.
The pessimistic argument is that Lopez has had good games before, but the odds are against him stringing together enough of them to be a worthwhile use of a rotation spot. Perhaps ultimately that will be his fate, but watching a young starter with premium stuff dominate was refreshing even if y’know…the White Sox got shut out and the season has mostly been watching prospects struggle, fail, get hurt, or all of the above.
With Lopez profile of premium stuff and low command, the realistic hope was that he would become a #3 starter rather than delete all of his weaknesses and become an ace. He didn’t get all the way there this year, but he got closer, and that’s not nothing.
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