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2020 Marlins Season Review: Pablo López

Pablo López was one of the most interesting pitchers to watch for the Marlins in 2020. How did he become a better hurler? Let’s take a look.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In 2020, Pablo López proved he’s in the Marlins starting rotation to stay.

Taking major steps forward in his third major league season, it wouldn’t seem a farse one to say Miami has another good young arm in López, who now makes this Marlins rotation appear formidable when pairing him with Sixto Sánchez and Sandy Alcántara. Join us to take a glimpse at what his 2020 looked like.

López’s MLB career stats | Baseball-Reference

After a 2019 season where he showed flashes of good performance, López began the 2020 season with what looked like a player beginning to harness his ability and put it all together. His first outing of the campaign—five scoreless innings of two hits, no walks, and seven strikeouts to get the win against the Orioles—was a clue of what was right around the corner for Pablo.

The Venezuelan righty cruised through August. At the end of the month, he was 3-2 with a 2.10 ERA. He didn’t allow more than two earned runs in any of his six starts, only served up one home run, and gave up just seven walks (four in a single appearance on 08/09 against the Mets).

The ensuing month of September could best be characterized as a test of the young right-hander’s character, where he endured his two most trying outings of the season. On September 4, López was smashed by the Rays with five earned runs on five hits across four innings. Then, on the 9th, he started one of the most embarrassing losses in Marlins history (29-9): 1.2 IP, 4 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, HR vs. the Braves.

But he overcame that. In Pablo’s final three games, he surrendered only eight hits and three earned runs in 17 13 episodes, along with five bases on balls and 19 strikeouts. That was good for a 1.56 ERA, a .136 opponent batting average, and a .448 OPS.

In general, the 24-year-old was a master at inducing soft contact. His 85.7 MPH exit velocity was among the best, the same as his barrel%, which was below the MLB average (4.3%). Also, you need to take a look at his low hard hit% (32.3%) and his launch angle, which decreased from 10º in 2019 to 6.7º this time.

Additional Stats

  • Nine of López’s 11 outings were quality starts. In fact, if you remove his cited performances against Tampa Bay (09/04) and Atlanta (09/09), his ERA would sit at 1.92.
  • He keeps improving against righties. His slash line off them went from .217/.272/.353/.625 in 2019 to .184/.261/.286/.547 this year.
  • López’s expected ERA was 3.28, that’s a great number considering it was 4.12 in 2018 and 4.57 in 2019.

High Points: Getting the win in his first start of the season, with five zeroes against the Orioles on August 4. Striking out eight with no walks in six innings off the Braves on August 14. His sixth and final start of the season with five scoreless vs. Atlanta on September 24.

Low Point: Seven earned runs on four hits and four walks in 1 23 innings against the Braves in a 29-9 loss.

2021 Outlook

Along with Sandy Alcántara and Elieser Hernández, López is one of the three men to have secured a spot in the starting rotation for next year. And that’s what was supposed to happen not only for how good he was in 2020, but also given how he has improved over his three years since debuting in 2018.

Pablo makes us think that he’s not done yet. What he does need is to try to go deeper in games, but so far, so good for him, especially in an era when starting pitchers are being utilized in ways previously unseen.

He has the secret formula to induce soft contact, almost no home runs, strike out 9.3 per nine, and give up 2.8 walks per nine without having overwhelming velocity on his pitches.

Only time will tell on how López will perform next year across the full-spectrum of a 162-game season but his low barrel%, exit velocity, and hard hit% will be key factors for him going forward so long as he keeps increasing his ground ball rate, as he did this year (from 49.1% to 52.8%).

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the plan CEO Derek Jeter and co. have in place for this organization seem to be sprouting its first flowers of fruitfulness, largely thanks to the growth of the starting rotation.