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2021 Marlins Season Review: Pablo López

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Pablo López was as good as we’ve seen in 2021.

Pablo Lopez #49 of the Miami Marlins throws a pitch during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at loanDepot park on October 03, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Pablo López had pitched himself into the conversation for the team’s ace in the first half. The Marlins offense, however, never gave him the run support necessary to win games. Over the first two months, he struggled with consistency from time to time and allowed six earned runs in one start in April and another in May. López settled down by the end of May and gave us a few brilliant outings. An unfortunate trip to the injured list in mid-July turned into nearly the rest of the regular season. He returned to pitch 1 23 innings on the final game of the season, but that was all Marlins fans could see of López in the second half.

2021 Timeline

  • April 2-May 27: López started 11 games in the first two months of the season. Despite holding a 2.71 ERA over those 11 starts, the Marlins lost half of those games and left him with a 1-3 record. Through those first two months, López had the lowest run support in all of baseball.
  • June 2-July 11: López started eight games in June and July before going on the injured list for nearly the rest of the season. One of those outings lasted one pitch (more on that later), so I’ll subtract that outing. Through seven games, he held a 3.32 ERA with 52 strikeouts.
  • July 17: López hits the injured list with a right rotator cuff strain.
  • October 3: Marlins activate López for one appearance in Game 162.

By The Numbers

López pitched well in 2021 and it’s a shame an injury sidelined him for the second-half of the season. When I was writing the series previews this season, I wrote multiple times about how the Marlins’ offense was neglecting their young pitcher. I even asked Ely to put López’s face on the begging Robin Hood meme because even just one crumb of run support could’ve helped the Marlins’ right-handed pitcher.

Over the first two months of the season, no pitcher received less run support than López’s 2.14 runs per nine innings. Brewers’ right-hander Brandon Woodruff was one tick behind him at 2.15 runs. Jacob deGrom seems to be baseball Twitter’s poster boy for unlucky starters deprived of run support and, while he’s on the list, deGrom received nearly a run and a half more than López. (Side note: you won’t be surprised, but Sandy Alcantara was on the list through the first two months before taking over as the pitcher with the lowest run support in all of baseball from June through the end of the season.)

Pablo López offensive splits from 2021 vs career totals FanGraphs

It was painful to watch the Marlins continuously let down López week after week. On April 18 vs. the Giants, López pitched six strong innings and allowed one unearned run. He walked two and struck out nine, but that single unearned run was the Giants’ only run of the game. The Marlins failed to score, and López received the loss.

In nine of his 11 starts through April and May, López held opposing offenses to two or fewer runs. He earned one win over that time. As frustrating as these games were for me, the game on July 2 was an all-time low. A 91.6 mph sinker, López’s first pitch of the game, rode up and in on Ronald Acuña Jr. and led to a prompt ejection. I won’t rehash the details (Ely did a good job with that at the time), but my point in bringing this up now is what the rest of the game.

So López gets tossed after one pitch, and Acuña takes first base. Ross Detwiler comes in and pitches three phenomenal innings, allowing just one hit. That hit was to the first batter he faced and allowed Acuña to advance to third. He then scored the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly. The bullpen did a fantastic job of allowing one hit over the next five innings. You couldn’t have asked for a better showing by the bullpen, but what about the offense? The Marlins managed only three runners in scoring position through the first eight innings. They threatened in the ninth, loading the bases with one out, but could not score. The game ended 1-0 with a Braves win. López threw one pitch thanks to an ump show and got the loss. This game, to me, summed up the depths of the Marlins’ offense this year.

To his credit, López’s season (when healthy) was the best he’s had in his career. He induced soft contact 66.7% of the time, averaging 86.7 mph on balls in play. His 33.3% chase rate was stellar, in the league’s 94th-percentile. Despite getting opposing batters to whiff on about a quarter of their swings, a mediocre rate, López’s 10.1% strikeout rate was a career high and well above league-average (23.3 K%). A majority of those strikeouts came on changeups, a pitch he frequently relied on when he got ahead in the count. Its usage has steadily climbed and in 2021 took over his 4-seam fastball usage rate.


Highlights!

June 19: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K.

July 11: An MLB record-setting 9 consecutive strikeouts to begin the game on the one-year anniversary of his father’s passing.


Will Pablo López Be Back?

This would have been an easy answer two weeks ago, but MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted about rumors floating that the Marlins may consider trading Pablo López, Sandy Alcantara, or Elieser Hernandez “in order to clear a rotation spot for the next young starter in 2022.” I can’t imagine López (or Alcantara) being traded, but I suppose no one is off-limits. Ely put it best last week, so I’ll leave you with his wise words:

However, do not confuse depth with impact. Pitchers like López and especially Alcantara are rare commodities, bonafide above-average starters whose production seems entirely sustainable. The Marlins aren’t arrogant enough to believe that they can plug a prospect into either of their spots for 2022 and get the same full-season results...right? I think the Fish know better than that.