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Deep Dive: right-handed starter edition, part 3

Reynaldo Lopez: his past, present and future with the White Sox

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Leap Forward: By almost any measure, Reynaldo López was the team’s best starting pitcher in 2018.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB Draft.

This article delves into the career of Reynaldo Lopez’s past, his most recent season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like.

Reynaldo López — how did he get here?

López, as a lanky native of the great Dominican town of San Pedro de Macoris, received a $17,000 signing bonus from the Washington Nationals on Aug. 8, 2012. Arm soreness led to severe struggles and limited innings in 2013.

However, López really took off in 2014 with Auburn and Hagerstown. For those two teams, he combined to post a spectacular 1.08 ERA and 0.82 WHIP over 83 13 innings, allowing 42 hits (.149 OBA) and 26 walks (2.81 BB/9) while striking out 70 hitters (7.56 K/9). The following year saw a regression against tougher competition in A+ Potomac, as López posted a respectable 4.09 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 99 innings, with 93 hits (.252 OBA) and 28 walks (2.55 BB/9) compared to 94 strikeouts (8.55 K/9). Other than simply giving up more hits, López’s walk and strikeouts actually improved from his terrific 2014.

In 2016, López pitched equally well for AA Harrisburg and AAA Syracuse. Combined with both squads, he produced a 3.21 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 109 13 innings, ceding just 90 hits (.220 OBA) and 35 walks (2.88 BB/9) while fanning 126 hitters (10.37 K/9). He even received his first taste of major league action, with 11 appearances (six starts). In his 44 innings with the Nationals, López posted a 4.91 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, surrendering 47 hits (.272 OBA) and 22 walks (4.50 BB/9) while striking out 42 (8.59 K/9). On December 7, López was traded to the White Sox along with fellow righthanders Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning for outfielder Adam Eaton.

López started 2017 with the Charlotte Knights. In 22 International League starts totaling 121 innings, he compiled a 3.79 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, surrendering 101 hits (.220 OBA) and 49 walks (3.64 BB.9) while striking out 131 hitters (9.74 K/9).

On August 11, he earned his promotion to the White Sox. In eight starts totaling 47 23 innings, López posted a 4.72 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, relinquishing 49 hits (.258 OBA) and 14 walks (2.64 BB/9) while striking out 30 (5.56 K/9). Aside from strikeout rates, López’s major league numbers improved in most areas when compared to his 2016 debut.

López with the White Sox in 2018

Although López certainly underwent some growing pains in his first full major league season, most would deem it a success. In 32 starts totaling a career-high 188 23 innings, Lopez posted a 3.91 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, allowing 165 hits (.234 OBA) and 75 walks (3.58 BB/9) while striking out 151 (7.20 K/9). What’s impressive is that, despite easily surpassing his career high in innings, he got stronger as the season careened toward its end. In López’s last seven starts covering 45 23 innings, he posted a 1.38 ERA and 0.92 WHIP by allowing only 28 hits and 14 walks (2.76 BB/9) while also fanning 48 (9.46 K/9).

Of course, many peripherals indicated that López should have suffered a far worse ERA than he actually posted. For example, with his four-seam fastball (averaging 95.5 mph) that he threw 60.7% of the time, his slash rates were .237/.335/.428, when they should’ve been .262/.365/.476. Actually by judging his four-pitch repertoire, the slider was López’s most effective pitch. Averaging 83.9 mph, the slider offered a nice speed variation and produced 55 strikeouts compared to just six walks; hitters also slashed just .199/.217/.272 against this pitch (thrown 17.9% of the time). López’s third-best pitch was his changeup, which averaged 83.6 mph and was thrown 15.5% of the time; hitters batted .258/.318/.442 against this offering, where peripherals also showed he could’ve fared far worse. Finally, López’s curveball was his weakest pitch despite its 76 mph velocity; hitters slashed .357/.458/.643 against this pitch, which he (understandably) threw only 5.5% of the time.

Why did López finish with a 3.91 ERA when his FIP was 4.63? Part of the answer was that he simply buckled down when runners got on base; he posted a .203 OBA and 0.99 WHIP with RISP. The second part of that answer is that in those critical two-out situations, López posted an impressive .186 OBA and 1.14 WHIP. In these situations, López threw a higher percentage of sliders to get batters out.

Lopez posted a 3.1 bWAR for the year. Considering each bWAR is worth approximately $7.7 million (per FanGraphs), considering his 2018 salary of $555,000, López provided a net value of $23,315,000 for the White Sox. Not shabby at all!

What does the future have in store for López in a White Sox uniform?

While López certainly did have his rough patches (July, for example, when he posted a 7.39 ERA and 1.79 WHIP), he was still the most consistently successful White Sox starting pitcher from beginning to end. Though many fans have southpaw Carlos Rodón pegged to pitch Opening Day, Lopez can make things interesting with a terrific spring.

López will begin his arbitration years in 2021, and will ultimately become a free agent in 2024 unless the White Sox decide to extend him. For next year, not including any free agent signings or trades which are expected to happen, he’ll be part of a rotation that includes Rodon, Giolito, and two of a mix of Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Jordan Stephens and Jordan Guerrero. As for 2020 and beyond, he could be part of a young starting corps (López turns 25 in January) that includes some combination of Rodon, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Alec Hansen.