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The Emergence of Pablo López

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Pablo López (and his stirrups) have become something special.

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Pablo Lopez (49) delivers a pitch during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins have been lauded for their young starting pitchers. Sandy Alcantara has been the team’s Opening Day starter for the last two years. Anticipation was bubbling over when Sixto Sánchez’s name was called. Left-hander Trevor Rogers burst onto the scene and hasn’t let up, resulting in his name among the game’s best pitchers this season. Pablo López, however, has not gotten the national attention that he deserves. Even among Marlins fans, López isn’t the fiery or flashy guy—except for his stirrups, I love the stirrups—that rallies the crowd. But I’ll give you a heads up: fans should start tuning in for López’s starts.

Miami Marlins pitcher Pablo Lopez (49) pitches against the New York Mets during the first inning at loanDepot Park.  Photo by Rhona Wise/USA TODAY Sports

López debuted mid-way through the 2018 season, so 2019 was his first “full” season at the major league level (though it was interrupted by a right shoulder strain). There seems to have been a turning point after that season but before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

The sample sizes are identical. In 2019, López made 21 starts and faced a total of 469 batters. In two partial seasons since then? Also 21 starts and 469 batters faced.

López’s statistics point to a much-improved pitcher.

Pablo López’s statistics in 2019 vs. 2020-2021, standard statistics
Pablo López’s statistics in 2019 vs. 2020-2021

To take such a profound step forward, López made some changes to his pitch repertoire. In 2019, he was working with three pitches: fastball, changeup, and curveball. López introduced a cutter in 2020 and continued to throw that pitch in 2021.

Pablo López’s 2019 pitch distribution Baseball Savant
Pablo López’s 2020 pitch distribution Baseball Savant
Pablo López’s 2021 pitch distribution Baseball Savant

As these photos shows, López’s introduction of the cutter in 2020 led to a decrease in usage of his curveball. When he does go to his curveball, however, he’s getting more called strikes on the pitch and is generally getting batters to chase more often. From season to season, there’s been a steady decrease in his fastball usage and an increase in the changeup usage, which has become his best pitch.

López’s strikeout percentage has increased slightly, from 20.3% in 2019 to 23.6% this season, but he is walking batters a bit more often. When opposing batters make contact, it’s often weakly hit. 8.3% of batted balls López has allowed were weakly hit, up from just 3.6% in 2019.

López is quietly putting together a really good season, but the Marlins’ lack of offense has hurt López in the eyes of fans who just keep track of the scoreboard and a pitcher’s win-loss record. If you’re a Marlins fan who lives in South Florida, you might want to mark your calendars for the next time López pitches at home, as will be the case Thursday afternoon against the Phillies.

Take a look at his splits at home and on the road in 2021:

  • Home (5 GS): 0.61 ERA, 18 H, 1 HR, 9 BB, 33 K, .168/.246/.243 slash line against
  • Road (5 GS): 5.13 ERA, 31 H, 3 HR, 8 BB, 21 K, .304/.351/.480 slash line against

It’s fair to say that López has pitched his way into the conversation of the team’s aces. He’s grown into initial expectations and wants to continue to be a guy the team can count on. Hopefully he can bring some luck with him as the team heads on the road.