After the 2022 season, it’s safe to say that Reynaldo López has found his role with the Chicago White Sox.
A former top starting pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals organization and a piece of the infamous Adam Eaton trade, López has discovered a home in the South Side bullpen. He originally turned in tumultuous results as a starter since his debut with the Sox in 2017. While always displaying a plus fastball and sharp breaking pitches, he struggled with command and pitch mix.
Though his time as a starter revealed a rollercoaster of highs (including a dominating 14-strikeout performance against Detroit) and lows (including a 5.38 ERA across 33 starts in 2019), he posted a strong 2.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 1.93 FIP, 8.7 K/9 across 65.1 IP as a reliever in 2022. The question now is simple – can he keep this form in 2023 and beyond?
First, let’s take a look at his 2022 MLB Percentile Rankings, via Baseball Savant:
A quick glance and Lopez’s metrics are pretty impressive across the board. While he began the transition to becoming a reliever in 2021, he still started nine games that year and posted an average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph with a FIP of 4.19. It was evident coming into 2022 that the plan was for him to be a full-time bullpen arm. Though he notched a solid 3.43 ERA as a part-time reliever in 2021, he jumped off the page in 2022 with a 2.76 ERA, 1.93 FIP, and 97.1 mph average fastball velocity, all career bests.
Now, a few things of note here:
- While the jump in average fastball velocity isn’t earth-shattering, it’s a significant improvement. “ReyLo” consistently throws harder in a one-inning reliever role, which is to be expected from most pitchers.
- Furthermore, his four-seam fastball’s spin rate has also jumped since he transitioned to the bullpen. Between 2017-20 as a starter, Reynaldo’s average spin rate on this pitch ranged from 2,102 to 2,137 RPMs (revolutions per minute). In 2021-22 as either a part-time or full-time reliever, these metrics were 2,225 RPMs and 2,249 RPMs, respectively. This is yet another significant improvement we see with his heater.
- Lastly, he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher, as he threw four-seamers and sliders a combined 87.3% of the time in 2022. Not only did he have career bests with the fastball in 2022, but he also had a career-high 37.4 whiff percentage and 2,264 (RPMs) average spin rate with his slider.
This past year, it appeared that López truly harnessed his stuff and put everything together to perform at a very high level. Obviously, we don’t have complete insider knowledge of the work pitching coach Ethan Katz has done with López when it comes to pitch shaping, mechanics, pitch mix, etc. However, here’s a video comparison of his mechanics from 2019 to 2021, courtesy of Sox Machine.
On the left (2021), he has a higher and more explosive leg kick, which appears to give his lower half the ability to extend the front leg more while also generating more torque. He also has a shorter arm swing and doesn’t drop his throwing arm so early into his delivery as he had previously done. The repeatability and stability of his mechanics, along with the decision to move him to the bullpen to get the most out of his ability, has clearly led to a resurgence in his career.
One can only assume that Ethan Katz and the White Sox pitching department worked extensively with López to tweak his delivery and ensure he makes a positive impact at the big-league level.
Is Reynaldo López‘s 2022 success as repeatable as his delivery?
Health-permitting, there appears to be a strong likelihood that he will be able to post similarly strong numbers in 2023. He’s turned a corner as a professional pitcher, understands his strengths and weaknesses, and the organization doesn’t overextend his responsibilities. While an ERA below 2.80, WHIP below 1.00, and FIP below 2.00 – like he had in 2022 – are extremely difficult asks of any reliever, it’s fair to expect López to be around a 3.25 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with a K/9 in the 8-9 range. He will be asked to continue being that confident, dependable middle-to-backend reliever as long as Liam Hendriks and Kendall Graveman are around to handle the setup and closer duties.
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