Patience With Pablo: Pablo López Is Better Than The Stats Say

Don't give up yet, Pablo López is on the verge of turning a corner.

Pablo López has had a frustrating year. While his stats indicate he’s been league average, everything under the hood suggests he’s right on the verge of breaking out. His stuff has improved substantially this season, but the results haven’t shown up yet. There are a number of reasons as to why this may be, but let’s start by breaking down what he has to offer and why it’s better than the 4.25 ERA he’s put up to this point this season.



The 4-Seam


López has a strange fastball. As is often the case, being unique is an advantage for a pitcher. López throws his fastball 94.9 mph on average, with 75% of his 2292 RPMs being active spin. Combined with his movement direction this creates 14.5” IVB and -4.8” HB. It’s in that range of gyro fastball that, while not the popular rising fastball, is capable of missing bats at a high rate. It’s a thin line to walk though and, as such, the performance of this pitch can vary. For the most part, while the whiff rates have fluctuated for him year to year, it has always performed at least neutrally. Generally speaking though I’d mark it as slightly above average.




The Sweeper


López’ sweeper is a new pitch for him this year, and it is (in theory) his strongest offering. It has power behind it, with 13.4” of HB at 84.3 MPH. More often than not, the harder you throw a breaking ball the better it will perform so long as you aren’t massively sacrificing the shape in the process. His release height of 5.36’ off the ground and 1” of IVB creates a bit of lift under the ball and a difficult look that can cause even more whiffs than a pitch with that speed/horizontal combo is already capable of. He also creates a wide gap between his spin direction and actual movement. While the ball leaves his hand with a spin direction of 7:45, the seam-shifted wake causes the ball to move in a direction up the axis at 9:08. This massive 83-minute difference can cause difficulties for hitters trying to pick up the spin on the ball. Ignore the Run Value it has racked up for a minute as I believe it is punishing him too harshly when it misses and hitters spit on it. His CSW% with this pitch is above average, as is the overall whiff rate. Ideally, he’d throw fewer waste pitches with it but, ultimately, it’s a very strong pitch that induces unimpressive contact and whiffs, while also picking up a good amount of called strikes.




The Changeup


Since day one this has been Pablo’s calling card. He has a great changeup that has always played well. There’s one oddity, in that Stuff+ isn’t fond of it. However, as has been discussed before, changeups are a bit of a blind area for stuff metrics as they can’t account for deception. In this case, I think it’s doubly wrong as I like the movement of his changeup a lot. He throws it a little harder than I’d like at 88.4 mph, only 6 mph away from his fastball, but this is how the Marlins have been teaching changeups for a while. Where he makes up for this however is with his average 5.4” IVB and -16.7” HB, which is a huge movement gap from his 4-seam. The ideal number for IVB difference is 10” but 8” is enough to suffice when you have that much fade on it as well. He also gets a bonus point in my book for nearly perfectly mimicking his fastball release with it. There’s a reason this is the pitch he’s known for. Not only does it miss bats but, unlike most changeups, it usually doesn’t get clobbered when hitters put it in play. Also unlike most changeups, it’s platoon neutral and he can throw it to righties with great success.




The Sinker


An offering he uses exclusively against right-handed hitters for the platoon advantage; López throws a very good sinker at 94.6 MPH with a ton of SSW. This causes it to be a heavy pitch with a good amount of run despite the low spin efficiency. It spins on almost the same axis as his 4-seam (1:08 and 1:05, respectively) but he manipulates the movement exceptionally well with the 4-seam moving at 12:36 and the sinker at 1:59. This difference in movement allows him to use both fastballs against right-handed hitters and for them to play off of each other. He doesn’t use it against lefties though as, barring something to cause an exception, sinkers generally play poorly against opposite-handed hitters. He doesn’t particularly need it against lefties anyway as his 4-seam and changeup prove a deadly combo to them with the sweeper and curveball available to him as well. Instead, he uses it to tie up righties and induce ground balls from them.




The Curveball


Lastly, López throws a curveball that is… fine. It’s got some velo to it at 82 mph, but its movement is a mix of horizontal and vertical that usually plays worse than it looks. -11.7” IVB and 10.3” HB isn’t ideal and it doesn’t have enough speed to make up for its unimpressive movement profile. However, as he throws it almost exclusively to left-handed hitters, it’s not too bad. He’s able to zone it semi-consistently for called strikes, and it does garner a decent number of chases. It doesn’t create a perfect spin mirror with his 4-seam, but it does have similar spin efficiency and a spin direction within 22 minutes of being mirrored which is potentially close enough to explain how this pitch performs as well as it does.




What’s Gone Wrong And What Comes Next?


It feels a bit too easy to say that López has simply been unlucky this year. However, I wouldn’t say that’s an inaccurate description. Rather than blaming it entirely on that, I’ll point out that he could be doing a few things better. I’d love to see him throw his sweeper in the zone more often. It’s a difficult pitch to square up, as evidenced so far this season, and I’d like to see him challenge with it. That may be something that comes with time as he throws the pitch more. While his command is good, as is backed by both command+ metrics and consensus, he could stand to throw fewer fastballs near the center of the zone. Same with his curveball, it catches the middle third of the plate too often. I might be nitpicking at this point though. Most pitchers do this more than I’d like. Pitching is hard and sometimes pitches leak to a hitter’s wheelhouse. It happens. 

If I were López’ hypothetical pitching coach, I might consider asking him about his old cutter. He’s thrown a few different variations of it, most of which were worthwhile additions to his arsenal. Despite this, he scrapped it this offseason. A cutter in his arsenal now could help to make that sweeper 6” off the zone even more enticing to hitters. That said, throwing six pitches with consistent regularity is very difficult and, while his pitches wouldn’t have a blending problem, sometimes simplicity is better. There’s a reason the Yu Darvishes and Chris Bassitts of the baseball world are as appreciated for their pitch variety as they are. Beyond that, as I said, I’d like to see his sweeper in the zone more often. Actually, I’d like to see the sweeper more often in general. It’s a substantially better pitch than his curveball and, while the latter shouldn’t be shelved, he might benefit from using the new pitch more. Beyond that though, I’m not sure what else he could do to further optimize his game. All that’s left is to wait for the outcomes to match his improvements.


Jack Foley

Jack is a contributor at Pitcher List who enjoys newfangled baseball numbers, coffee, and watching dogs walk by from the window where he works. He has spent far too much time on the nickname page of Baseball-Reference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login