Reynaldo Lopez had an interesting 2021, to say the least. Lopez entered Spring Training in a battle for the 5th spot in the starting rotation. After a few rough outings, he ultimately lost the battle to Carlos Rodon. Instead of being in the bullpen like many Sox fans thought, however, Lopez was demoted to Triple-A (Charlotte Knights). We then heard reports that Lopez would start off on the injured list in Charlotte due to having Lasik eye surgery. He would eventually join the Knights and their rotation to stay stretched out if the White Sox ever needed him at some point during the 2021 season. Lopez had a rough go in his second stint with the Knights. He posted an ERA of 7.62 and a WHIP of 1.897 in 10 starts. However, towards the end of his run in Charlotte, Lopez started to show more and more progress.
Thanks to Ethan Katz, Lopes started focusing on only two pitches: his 4-Seam Fastball and his Slider. He also throws a Curveball and Changeup but didn’t throw those that much. When the White Sox originally called up Lopez late in 2021, fans were confused due to his lack of solid track record in AAA. However, the adjustments that Katz and Lopez made came to fruition at the major league level. Lopez was able to adequately fill a reliever role, and when the White Sox rotation faced injuries, he also got some starts. Frankly, given his AAA numbers, he exceeded expectations in both roles.
This obviously raises some questions about his role heading into 2022. With Michael Kopech being inserted into the rotation in 2022 – likely to replace a departing Carlos Rodon – the bullpen has an obvious hole. At the same time, Kopech might be on some sort of innings limit, so it isn’t as easy as replacing Rodon with Kopech.
Let’s look at the two roles Lopez could play in 2022 and see which one fits him best.
Reynaldo Lopez actually threw more innings as a Starter in 2021 (37.1 IP) than as a reliever (20.1 IP). Lopez made 9 starts, and across those 37.1 IP, recorded some improved, but underwhelming stats. He had an ERA of 4.10, a WHIP of 1.125, a FIP of 4.64, an xFIP of 4.05, and a record of 2-3.
Lopez, who is a career starter, may have a new role in 2022, but last season he did find the most success he’s had as a starter since 2018 (3 fWAR season). While starting pitchers with only two really good pitches don’t usually fare too well, Lopez could always improve his likely fate by working on his Changeup and Curveball this offseason. I am sure that Katz has a plan for him to continue his development. However, I’m not yet sure Lopez being a consistent starter in 2022 is the proper role for him.
During the 2021 campaign, Sox fans gave Reynaldo Lopez the nickname “Reyliever” due to his success as a reliever.
In this role, Lopez had 11 appearances with 20.1 innings pitched. He posted an ERA of 2.21 and a WHIP of 0.639, which was lower than Liam Hendriks – though this is a much smaller sample size than Hendriks. Still, it’s an impressive number when compared to a reliever like Hendriks. Lopez also had a FIP of 3.37 and an xFIP of 3.27, showing his results, while potentially luck-induced, were a legitimate improvement from years past. He had a K% of 30.1% as a reliever, which was 8% higher than his K% as a starter.
Reynaldo Lopez just looked like a completely different pitcher when he came out of the bullpen. His Fastball and Slider faired much better with his improved mechanics in these shorter outings. He also occasionally mixed in his Curveball and Changeup, which made all of his pitches more effective due to increased variety. This, combined with the lighter workload as a reliever, ensured his pitches remained much more effective throughout his outings.
What will the White Sox do with Reynaldo Lopez in 2022? Well, ultimately, he will probably play a similar role in 2022 to the one he played in 2021.
Lopez will still 100% get starts as injuries and doubleheaders happen throughout the 2022 season. The White Sox will need to keep Lopez around, especially if they are going to limit Michael Kopech’s innings again. In my opinion, Reynaldo Lopez should be used more as a long reliever in 2022 with getting occasional starts. He had seemed to have found a home in the White Sox bullpen. The numbers proved that he was more effective coming out of the pen than starting on the bump.
If we get the same Reynaldo Lopez in 2022 that we did during the 2021 season, he will definitely be a key contributor to the White Sox in 2022.
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