With the 2019 season well underway, fantasy owners are wondering who the “next big thing” is going to be in the realm of starting pitching. All the exciting new names in rotations like the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, and Miami Marlins have people wondering which under-owned arm is the one to hold onto for the foreseeable future. One name that continually gets mentioned towards the top these lists is Miami’s 23-year-old starter Pablo Lopez. He impressed this spring to the tune of a 3-0 record with 20 IP, 16 K, 1 BB, a 0.90 ERA, and a measly 0.55 WHIP. He also supposedly added 25 pounds of muscle over the off-season to help increase his velocity. The hype was real heading into the young RHP’s 2019 debut start at home against a tough Colorado Rockies lineup last Saturday — and boy did he impress. There was plenty of good but there was also some areas where improvements can be made. It’s my job to shed light on both sides of the spectrum and give you some insight into what to keep an eye on moving forward. Let’s get right into it.
Fastball – 93.3mph, 50 thrown (57% usage), 14% SwStr Rate, 9/16 First Pitch Strikes
Lopez throws both a Four Seam Fastball and a Sinker, but I can count on one hand the amount of times there was enough action on the pitch last Saturday to justify giving it the “sinker” designation. For the sake of this article, I’m lumping the two together but will highlight both down below. Lopez was supposedly touching 97mph with the heater during the spring, but he topped out at 96 in this start and only did that once. He typically sat from 93-95 with little movement in any direction. He also struggled with command of the pitch out of the gate, missing his catcher’s desired location by a fair amount somewhat frequently. However, this did improve as the game progressed. Towards the end of the start, Lopez was spotting both on the corners and at the knees (where he was getting squeezed out of multiple strikes) while sitting around 93mph. I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
Let’s get the bad part out of the way first. Here is a 3-pitch sequence (all fastballs) in the third inning against Garrett Hampson. There’s nobody on base and his catcher, Chad Wallach, wants an easy fastball down on the outside corner. This one gets away and flies upstairs. Same expectation on the next pitch and Lopez nails it. Nice. Wallach figures, “hey man, let’s do that one more time” and asks for another one in the same spot. This one misses right over the heart of the plate with zero movement and it gets promptly drilled for a base hit. When Lopez was missing with the Fastball early on, it was getting left over the heart of the plate. I like that he’s around the strike zone, but serving 94mph straight Fastballs middle-middle in the majors isn’t going to end well.
There were, however, times where Lopez showed the ability to dot the fastball too. Here he is landing back-to-back 94mph heaters on the inside corner to a lefty (Tyler Anderson) and making it look easy. This is the kind of stuff we dream of seeing on a consistent basis.
There were only a couple times where a noticeable amount of sinking action occurred with the fastball and two of them were off the plate on the arm-side for balls (one was even a HBP). The other two were seen here, also against Tyler Anderson, with a nasty 91mph sinker that whips the outside black followed up with an elevated 91mph offering for the strikeout. Anderson even gives Lopez a glance after striking out as if to ask “why did you save the real sinkers for a schmuck like me?” Please do more of this, Pablo.
As I mentioned above, Lopez was getting squeezed on a couple well located pitches at the knees. Here he is perfectly placing a cool 95mph fastball at the bottom part of the zone against Trevor Story and being robbed of a strike.
And finally, with a pitch very similar to the previous one, here’s some beautiful slo-mo of Pablo punching out David Dahl with some well placed 95mph heat just below the zone.
Lopez has lots of promise with both his four seam and his sinker. Knowing he was hitting 97mph this spring and hearing so much about his sinker before watching this start gives me the feeling that what we saw Saturday was maybe 70% of what the real Lopez fastball combo is supposed to look like. He had trouble locating it early and was leaving some real grade-A meatballs over the middle with no action to accompany them. I’d love to see him mix in more true sinkers that sit 90-91mph and run off the arm-side edge like the pitch he threw to Anderson in the fifth inning. His velocity was good out of the gate as he was sitting around 95mph early on. That came down towards the end of his outing as he ended up averaging closer to 93 in his final two frames. I’m interested to see how this evolves as the season progresses.
Curveball – 79.2mph, 15 thrown (17% usage), 13% SwStr Rate, 4/5 First Pitch Strikes
Strangely enough, the curveball was a similar story to the fastball on Saturday: Lopez struggled terribly with commanding it early on and it was seriously lacking in its movement. As the game progressed, however, Pablo started to “get on top of it” more and began to show some real snap with the breaking ball. It’s the clear third pitch in his arsenal, but it was devastating on hitters once Lopez found his feel for it near the third time through the order.
As I did with the fastball, I’m going to show you the worst of it first. It’s good to leave on a happy note so let’s look at the command issues Pablo had with the curve before getting to the good stuff. Below is a GIF of four separate times Lopez was asked to throw a curveball down in the zone. Keep an eye on where his catcher is setting up with his glove before each pitch. Sure, two of them were called strikes, but all four missed their intended location by a noticeable margin.
Around the fourth inning or so, Pablo made an adjustment and found his grip, release point, or whatever it was that was missing from the delivery of an effective curve and started twirling beauties. This 78mph curveball for a called strike on the outside corner at the knees to Charlie Blackmon is a good place to start.
Now witness the deliciousness of what it looks like when Lopez nails his location with the deuce and laugh at the loop of the flailing Trevor Story. It’s almost as if it’s neverending…
The best curveball moment of the night occurred when Pablo doubled up on it against Garrett Hampson in the fourth with two out and a runner on. First, he buckles Hampson’s knees with a 78mph spinner around his face that came back to find the plate for a called strike, then he finishes him off with a wicked 79mph sweeping version that earns the swinging strikeout. I’ll be showcasing the full sequence of this at-bat down below. It’s a fun one.
Once Lopez was able to find the proper release point of his curveball around the fourth inning, it was an incredibly effective third pitch. It came at a great time too, as the Rockies were turning their lineup over for a third time. It was worrisome to see the command issues last as long as they did before they were fixed, but ultimately Lopez was able to recognize an issue and solve it mid-game in order to get the job done. For someone with as little MLB experience as he has, that’s not something that should go unnoticed. I love seeing that kind of stuff in young pitchers. Making adjustments on the fly is essential for any pitcher to succeed. You’re not always going to have your best stuff — in fact you’re rarely going to have it at all. Being able to identify what’s working and what isn’t while also making mid-game adjustments is a top-tier quality to have as a starting pitcher.
Changeup – 85.4mph, 23 thrown (26% usage), 39% SwStr Rate, 1/1 First Pitch Strikes
Now we get to the fun part. Lopez’s changeup is downright disgusting. It was giving all of the Rockies hitters fits. Both righties and lefties were available for abuse from the filthiness of it on Saturday. As you can see in the numbers above, Pablo threw the pitch over a quarter of the time and received nearly a 40% swinging strike rate with it. I won’t waste any more of your time. Let us witness the beauty of it all.
Here we see Dahl swinging right through an 86mph perfectly located version of the changeup. When Lopez is putting fastballs in this exact same spot, as we saw earlier, following up with a pitch like this is simply not fair.
Dahl was getting the brunt of the changeup’s wickedness. Here’s Lopez once again landing a good one in the lower part of the zone at 85mph and earning the whiff. Check out how late and sudden the bottom falls out. Now imagine having to distinguish between this and a 95mph fastball in the same location within a fraction of a second.
The changeup from Lopez isn’t limited to just vertical movement either. Here’s Pablo spotting back-to-back changeups on the outside edge with two strikes against Ryan McMahon. The Rockies first baseman was able to hold up the first time, but wasn’t expecting Lopez to repeat the pitch and was called out on strikes after committing to the running 87mph offering. I love everything about this.
Lopez rarely left the changeup up in the zone on Saturday but this one that came in at 87mph in the middle of the zone had Trevor Story thinking nothing but fastball. Although it’s not an ideal location, you can get away with this from time to time when you’re mixing the two effectively. Lopez had no issue throwing the change in any situation and I can’t blame Story for assuming this pitch out of the hand in a 2-2 count was anything other than a heater.
To cap off the offering, here’s three different looks at a beautiful 86mph changeup that Lopez placed in on the hands of Ian Desmond in a 2-1 count. I love seeing the horizontal action burying itself inside. Again, this is in a hitters count and Desmond was thinking “long ball” only to be bamboozled as the ball sneaks below the barrel. Gorgeous.
The changeup is by far Pablo Lopez’s best pitch. He commands it effectively, it’s an 8-10mph difference from both his fastball and his Curve, he’s confident in throwing it an any situation and any count, he throws it to both righties and lefties and it brings both vertical and horizontal movement. It’s everything you want in a changeup. For a 23-year-old up-and-comer, this is an immensely valuable building block to a successful career as a pitcher. I don’t have much else to say about it. It’s fantastic. Enjoy it. Build upon it.
My favorite part of all GIF Breakdowns is the sequencing. I show you the arsenal to get you familiar with the types of bullets the pitcher has at his disposal, but it’s how he uses those bullets and in what order and location that really brings to light what kind of a pitcher we’re dealing with. Right out of the gate in the first inning, Pablo was mixing all three of pitches into at-bats. He didn’t start slowly by establishing the fastball and waiting until the second time through the order to mix in a third pitch. It was “here’s what I got” from the get-go and I love that. Sit back and enjoy how Pablo mixed these three different offerings last Saturday and induced headaches aplenty for the Rockies offense.
First let’s look at a three-pitch sequence Lopez used to get Dahl to fly out to left. He starts the at-bat with a perfectly placed 85mph changeup that’s unfair to throw in a 0-0 count for a whiff. Then he elevates to the top of the zone at 93mph which, after the previous pitch, probably looks more like 97mph. Now he has Dahl 0-2 and can throw whatever he wants. Dahl probably had the changeup on his mind, being in such a hole at 0-2, and was late to defend against another well-placed fastball at the top of the zone and flew out for what would be a sacrifice fly. All three pitches right on the edges. This shows us that Lopez not only works corners, but that he changes elevation within the strike zone as well. I’m a big fan.
Remember the changeup we just saw that Lopez threw to Ian Desmond in a 2-1 count? Well here it is again along with the pitch that followed. I don’t normally pull sequencing from the middle of an at-bat, but I couldn’t help myself here. I’m a sucker for good mixing between a fastball and a changeup and after Lopez pulled the string on the inside corner to get to 2-2, he lifted a heater up over the outside edge and blew it by Desmond for the swinging strikeout. This is definitely not what the Rockies center fielder had in mind after getting himself a 2-1 count as he leaves the box visibly frustrated.
Things really get good when Lopez’s favorite victim of the evening, David Dahl, stepped up to face him for a third time. Remember when I said Pablo was getting squeezed on fastballs down in the zone? Here we see him not getting a close call again, but the fake bunt attempt and the fact that his catcher stabbed when receiving the pitch probably didn’t help either. So Dahl’s now sitting 1-0. What do you think comes next? If you guessed a gorgeous changeup that starts in the exact same spot as the previous fastball and falls off the table late in its flight path and gets swung through for a whiff, you’d be right on the money. The confidence Lopez has in the change is a lot of fun to watch. Pablo then mixes in a curveball that runs in on the hands of Dahl (because why not remind the guy you have a third pitch this late in the game) and works the count to 1-2. He’s now shown all three pitches and can do whatever he wants while ahead in the count, so he figures a nice 84mph change off the outside corner is a good place to start — and he was right. Dahl takes a seat and Lopez picks up another K.
And now for the grand finale. In the fourth inning with 2 outs, Lopez faced Garrett Hampson, who had rocketed a fastball over the middle into right field for a single in his previous at-bat. Pablo figured he wouldn’t mess with the middle of the plate this time and did something wonderful. He misses with the first pitch up and in at 93mph. It may appear as just an innocent “ball one” but it sets up and starts the sequence of what’s to come. Lopez follows this up with — wait for it — a changeup with plus-movement in the same location for a strike. Now at 1-1, Pablo says “I’m not done with that location yet” and throws his third pitch type in the exact same quadrant. Like, what? The pitch on its own isn’t much to be excited about. It’s 78mph and looks like a hanger that should have been a banger, but in this situation and sequence of pitches it causes Hampson’s knees to buckle. He just had 93mph up around his grill not too long ago so the curve causes him to give up on the pitch and take strike two. So we’ve now seen all three pitch types and they’ve all been in the upper inside zone on a righty. Where would you go in a 1-2 count here? Lopez chooses to double down on the previous pitch type and hooks a curveball off the outside edge that straight up disappears from the zone. Hampson can only flail miserably before he’s taking his walk of shame back to the dugout. This sequence is so good.
Pablo Lopez is only 23 years old and from what I saw on Saturday he has a great foundation to build upon. He has a great presence on the mound, he stayed calm and collected for the most part (I’ll discuss this more below), and his delivery appears free, easy, and repeatable. I like that he wastes no time mixing all three of his offerings into his game. The first two batters he faced on Saturday got to see his entire arsenal. I love giving the entire offense three things to be thinking about from the get-go and not allowing them to assume they’re only going to be seeing a portion of your repertoire until the second or third time through the order.
The fastball/sinker combo shows plenty of room for improvement. Lopez was able to make due with a somewhat flat 94-95mph four seamer and no sinker for more than five innings against the Rockies. If he finds his sinker and mixes it in with the movement it has shown, it can have more effectively going forward — look out. While I wasn’t impressed with the fastball in this start alone, I am impressed and excited for how much ceiling there appears to be with the heat as Lopez develops further. The curveball is a great third offering when it’s thrown correctly. If Pablo can find the release point on the deuce more often than he did on Saturday, he’ll have three legit major league pitches in his arsenal going forward. The changeup speaks for itself. You saw what it can do. Not only does Lopez command it well, but it has both vertical and horizontal movement and it’s mixed into at-bat sequences brilliantly. I don’t have anything bad to say about it. It’s a Money Pitch and something Pablo has in his back pocket to rely on in any situation or count.
Lopez is also a pitcher that stays around the zone. He’s not wild in the sense that he can’t throw strikes. He’s wild in the sense that sometimes he catches too much of the plate. This is something I think he got away with a little bit against the Rockies. I’d still take this over “nibbling” on outside edges as other young pitchers tend to do when they’re first getting acclimated in the majors. He isn’t afraid to attack guys. I like that.
The Miami broadcast also showed a really cool clip of Lopez’s arm slot for all three of his pitch types. This showcases just how consistent he keeps his delivery and arm angle no matter the pitch — which makes it that much harder for hitters to get a beat on what’s coming. Enjoy.
One of the most important positive takeaways I have is Pablo’s ability to adjust mid-game. The fastball was all over the place early on and the curve wasn’t going where it needed to or moving how it was supposed to. To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t like what I was seeing until the fourth inning. But lo and behold, Lopez made multiple adjustments that led to him finding his fastball command and the release point of his curveball. When those things were sorted, he looked like a completely different pitcher. I’m thoroughly impressed with how he handled the adversity he was going through and knowing he worked things out in the heat of the moment is a fantastic thing.
The lack of command of multiple pitches early on is concerning. Lopez left more than a handful of fastballs right down the middle of the plate at 94mph with little to no movement. This isn’t something you can get away with often if at all. He was frankly lucky on Saturday to have not gotten punished more than he did for this. The curveball was nowhere to be found until the fourth inning. As you saw in the first GIF of the CU section, he struggled to keep the pitch down and left it up in the zone more times than anyone would be comfortable with. The sinker was also a no-show. I counted four total fastballs that showed any hint of tailing action and two of those ran inside on Chris Iannetta (one even being a HBP).
Speaking of that HBP, it was the first pitch Pablo threw from the stretch the whole game. He had just served Garrett Hampson a meatball down the middle for a single and followed it up by drilling Iannetta in the ribs with the first Sinker that showed any life. Want to know what he followed that up with? A balk. On the very next pitch. Against the pitcher, Tyler Anderson, who was clearly in a bunt situation. He seemed rattled. He first seemed bothered by Hampson at first and drilled Iannetta, then he seemed bothered by the idea of fielding the sure bunt from Anderson and balked the runners over. The good news is Lopez didn’t lose his cool here. He buckled down and went about his business. The two runners ended up scoring but with the top of the lineup following the Anderson debacle, Pablo limited the damage. There was also a minor dip in velocity with the fastball towards the end of his outing (down to around 93mph), but with this being his first start of 2019, I’m not going to put much weight into that.
All things considered, I’m excited for what’s to come from the youngster out of Miami. He has a fluid and repeatable delivery with the possibility of three (four with the sinker) quality offerings in his arsenal. He has an amazing changeup that he’s confident in throwing in and situation or count to both righties and lefties. He can split the usage between his four seam and sinker more going forward to enable him to work both edges of the plate more effectively. The curveball needs some fine tuning and could be more consistent, but knowing Pablo is only 23 with plenty of room to grow as far as pitch development eases my concerns there.
He mixes all of his pitches from the get-go which I love. He stays around plate and attacks hitters aggressively — which could be a detriment on days where one of his pitches isn’t working and the fastball is lacking movement. Lopez also holds runners fairly well (apart from the third inning debacle) and mixes his timing to the plate regularly.
Overall there is a ton of upside with Pablo Lopez. I saw some red flags against the Rockies early on that had me worried, but he made adjustments in the middle of the outing that I don’t even see from some of the older veterans of the craft. The possibility of a quality four-pitch repertoire, the calm demeanor and mature presence on the mound, the fluid delivery and consistent arm slot, the advanced mixing and sequencing of pitches, and the ability to adjust on the fly all have me believing in a bright future for the righty in the Sunshine State.
(Photo by Juan Salas/Icon Sportswire)