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  • What Happened to Jorge Lopez?

    The Minnesota Twins came into the 2023 season largely unchanged in the bullpen. In fact, the front office made no moves to create big-league depth, and they were relying heavily on Jorge Lopez regaining his All-Star form. He did in April, but May was a mess. So what’s going on?

    Image courtesy of Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

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    For the first month of the season, Jorge Lopez was getting the results he needed. Through 13 games and 12 innings, Lopez had allowed just a single unearned run. He only gave up six hits, and the former Baltimore Orioles All-Star posted a 10/1 K/BB ratio. By all surface statistics, he was every bit the guy Minnesota flipped Cade Povich and Yennier Cano for. Even with a 2.12 FIP, the underlying numbers didn’t suggest the boogeyman was coming.

    While Cano continued to dazzle for the Orioles in Baltimore, Lopez then imploded over the past month. Across his last 14 games, which have come out to 12 innings as well, the Twins high-leverage arm has posted a 9.00 ERA along with an even worse 11.20 FIP. His 11/9 K/BB ratio suggests he can’t get the ball by anyone, and batters have a whopping 1.236 OPS against him during that stretch.


    His numbers year-to-date now look borderline-ugly, and he’s back to the same pumpkin he has been since being dealt to the Twins. You have to stretch out the run of plate appearances against relatively far to find any sustained level of success.

    So, what happened?

    Without speaking in definites, and especially considering the 24-inning sample size, this is what we can glean from 2023 alone.

    To start the year, Lopez was throwing his fastball 43% of the time. He paired that with his curveball and slider nearly 20% each, with the changeup slotting in behind that. Contact rates were high, and whiff rates were low, but he was inducing chases over 36% of the time. Although batters were putting the ball in play, they often were doing so without much of a base resulting in an extremely impressive 15% hard-hit rate. With 33 batted ball events in those outings, he allowed zero barreled balls.

    Fast forward to the last 12 innings and changes have come with the pitch mix. Velocity has remained constant, but Lopez is now throwing the fastball over 50% of the time, while both the curveball and changeup have seen their opportunities slashed. He’s getting more swings and misses, but batters are spitting on pitches off the plate more often. It has allowed opposing hitters to square up swings and put balls in play with a 50% hard-hit rate and 17.5% barrel rate (7/40).


    Let’s key in on the fastball. Its usage has jumped the most. In looking at the quality of the offering, it appears that it’s less about the fastball itself and more about the location of the pitch. That’s not a surprising take by any means, but Lopez doesn’t benefit by throwing that pitch up in the zone. Looking at his pitch heat maps from his successful start, the ball was often down in the zone. As he’s been beaten with it, opposing batters have sat on the velocity coming at the top of the strike zone. 

    By wOBA (weighted on-base average), we see how drastic the success rate is for opposing batters as well. When Lopez was throwing his heater down in the zone the opposition posted just a .161 wOBA. Since he’s moved it to the top third of the zone, the pitch is generating a ridiculous .672 wOBA.

    Lopez has actually thrown for a slightly higher average velocity this season with Minnesota than he did as an All-Star last year. He’s also throwing his fastball roughly as often. A key problem has been the location of it. For whatever reason Lopez has gone with more four-seam fastballs than sinkers this season, and he has drastically upped the slider usage. It seems the offspeed stuff still plays just fine, but pairing his fastball, and the kind in which he utilizes, at the top of the zone should be a no-fly area.

    With Jhoan Duran as a lockdown reliever for Minnesota, and Griffin Jax working his way back there, Rocco Baldelli desperately needs another leverage option. That was supposed to be Lopez, and until he can figure this out, the bullpen will be in a nightly struggle to piece it together.

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    The pitch mix issue is a classic adjustment that has pitchers throwing higher quality innings. That part should be relatively easy to solve.

    The location is harder. Much harder. 

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    I detailed a lot of Lopez's issues regarding his season with Baltimore compared with the Twins.

    If you are a Caretaker, you can read that post here: 

    Essentially, when he showed up with the Twins, he started throwing his sinker down in the zone.  This made the fastball/sinker less effective but made his changeup better -- particularly in 2-strike situations. 

    But the fastball was not the out pitch it was when he was with Baltimore and he was using it at the top of the zone in those situations.

    The issue isn't that he's throwing the ball in the upper third more. According to TruMedia, his fastball in the upper third wOBA is actually .386 -- which is elevated because of his walks, not being hit hard. Comparatively, his wOBA when throwing the fastball in the lower third is .353. 

    The real culprit isn't his location on either end of the zone. It's when he throws it in the middle third.

    Screenshot 2023-06-11 2.07.35 PM.png

    You can see that the balls hit 95 or high off of Lopez are in the middle of the zone. 

    Like the home run he gave up to Varsho the other series. 

    You can see Jeffers wanting it at the top of the zone...

    Screenshot 2023-06-11 3.05.11 PM.png

    But it winds up closer to the middle portion...

    Screenshot 2023-06-11 3.07.04 PM.png

    When Lopez is successful, he's be at the top of the zone or higher. This year, we've seen more pitches leak toward the middle. Similar to last year when he was trying to hit the lower third and had pitches leak over the middle again. 

    The same thing can be said about the home runs and hard contact on his secondary stuff -- it's non-fastballs that leak up. 

    I still believe last year's snafu with the Twins was related to trying to have him throw the ball down in the zone more (although it helped his changeup) and this year he has tried to go up more and has been having issues commanding his pitches. 

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