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Do the Twins Need to Fix Jorge Lopez?


Last season the Minnesota Twins largely left the bullpen untouched going into the season. They added at the trade deadline, but it was probably too little too late by that point. Still having Jorge Lopez in the fold from their dealings, the hope would be that he can return to the form he showed as an All-Star closer with the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Image courtesy of Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In 2021 Jorge Lopez was not a good pitcher. To be fair, he really hadn’t been a good pitcher in the 102 games he’d thrown at the Major League level. Across three organizations Lopez tallied a 6.04 ERA while working 350 innings. That is why, after starting 25 games in 2021, the Baltimore Orioles moved him to the bullpen.

Lopez was acquired on a waiver claim from the Kansas City Royals, and now was gifted an opportunity to work in relief at 29-years-old. The results couldn’t have been better. Across 44 games, Lopez racked up 19 saves and a cool 1.68 ERA. His strikeouts jumped to double-digits per nine for the first time in his career, and while the walk rate held steady, he stopped allowing home runs. It earned him his first trip to the All-Star Game, and Baltimore parlayed the success into a solid return featuring Cade Povich and Yennier Cano.

Then Lopez got to Minnesota’s bullpen. In 23 games, he lost a hold of the closer role, recorded just three saves, and posted a 4.37 ERA. His strikeout rate tumbled while the walks ticked up and he allowed more than a hit per inning pitched. To say it was a complete reversal of what was expected to be acquired would be putting it lightly.

As a whole, the chief change for Lopez was to stop throwing a four-seam fastball. He used the pitch less than 5% of the time last season, and instead funneled his energy into a sinker. The pitch has gained more than two miles per hour in velocity, averaging over 97 mph in 2022. It’s been an absolute weapon, but clearly things changed a bit with Minnesota.

Looking at the numbers, it’s not clear that Lopez changed a whole lot with his pitch mix. The slider and changeup usage has risen since joining the Twins, but not by more than nominal percentage points. The key difference looks to be in pitch location.

 

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For whatever reason, Lopez utilized the lower portion of the strike zone with the Twins. Newly adapted thinking has suggested that fastballs up in the zone, depending on spin rates, can cause additional issues for hitters. With Lopez throwing a sinker, any amount of run could be manipulated to travel back within the zone as well.

Any team acquiring a new talent is likely to make tweaks or suggest options, but caution would seem wise with an arm going so well. It’s also possible that Lopez made changes to his location, tunneling techniques, or sequencing on his own accord or the game calling from Minnesota catchers. No matter who is responsible for the changes having been made, it’s clearly imperative that both sides get together and figure out a better path forward.

Due to his bouncing around early in his career, Lopez is under team control for two more seasons still. The Twins absolutely want him in their bullpen if he’s the Orioles version, but they can’t afford him to turn back into what he was as a starter, or be as hittable as he was down the stretch in 2022.


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I think Lopez is going to be fine. He probably won't be as dominant as he was with the O's, nor as mediocre as he was with the Twins, but I think he'll move back towards the median there. The stuff is still there and this looks more to me like a little small sample size stuff than anything else. This is also why relievers are fungible except for the truly elite: they bounce around from year to year and even within a single season.

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53 minutes ago, specialiststeve said:

No "fixing" need to hire a TOP NOTCH pitching coach and coach these guys up. Also need to stop relying on the analytics so much ... these guys are athletes and competators... LET THEM PITCH. 

PITCHING COACH, with skills is key! If guys could be “fixed” there would be no pitchers struggling with good stuff - not real to fix guys. Guys fix themselves or they wash out. Can’t fix command in the zone with coaching - it’s execution. Koufax was mediocre to bad for six years & then dominant for 5-6 yrs by finding the right release point that gave him some control - then increased confidence, and so on. Good coach can help tweak - maybe work on a guy’s head a bit?

Lopez could be an innings eater in 5th-7th with a 3.5 ERA, worst case……in my opinion. He threw in 44 games prior to All-Star break last year with 19 saves. With that many appearances (success) maybe he can only get 3 outs or less per outing? Something changed - I think it’s between his ears - hopefully a pitching coach can sort it out!! 

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1 hour ago, MGM4706 said:

STOP with the "Projects" and Tommy John Rehabs. Pay for some quality arms!!!

They did pay for an allstar in Lopez with the prospects given up , he just failed to live up to any real value for the twins so far  ...

Can the FO really be that good at recognizing talent , I'd say no , they looked at a small sample size of Lopez's career and shot a wad at acquiring  an allstar when his career told a different story ....

Let's hope the trade works out and he can get back to being an allstar performer  ...

We need pitching but the FO just doesn't  seems to  know the right talent to bring in and make a perfect fit ....

It's my plan and I'm sticking to it  ...

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A TD user, rwilfong86, stated several times after Lopez began struggling that he (Lopez) had personal issues going on at home, something with one of his children. Do not underestimate how much something like this could affect his performance, especially after being traded to a different team and being separated from family. 

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The Orioles traded him and they were in a race for the playoffs as much as the Twins were. To me, that was an immediate red flag. It made no sense, unless the Orioles were aware of something that was not so obvious. He was good for 3 months. But both Buxton and Correa were on record as wanting him and thinking he was wicked. Alas..... he could be a 3 month wonder. I hope not. It is not unusual. Maeda had a great 3 month season in 2020. 

We will see.

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Real tired of bringing in guys that need to be "fixed". Lopez was a career nothing until the 1st half of last season, when for some reason, he all of a sudden was much better. Who knows why? He had two terrible outings against us before the break. We killed him. Then, he comes here and was just as brutal. If he's worth anything on the open market, see if we can get something for him and let him get "fixed" by another team. 

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