Lopez the Reliever
As a reliever during 2022, Lopez appeared in 61 games, threw 65.1 innings, struck out 63, and walked 11 while pitching to a 2.76 ERA, 0.949 WHIP, and posting a career-high 5.73 K/BB rate.
He appeared in 68 games for three teams in 2023, throwing 66 innings and pitching to a 3.27 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, striking out 83 and walking 34 – two intentional. Lopez’s career screams late-inning reliever, so why announce they’re stretching him out?
The first thing to note is that while Lopez is willing to do whatever is required, he wants to be a starter again. he said as much at his news conference. Most pitchers with a background in starting don't look for a bullpen job if there's a starting job available. A starter's career lasts longer, and longevity leads to higher income, but being a starter just feels different.
So, the Atlanta Braves will give him a chance to claim a spot in the rotation, and if he can limit walks, there's no question he has the tools to do it. Signing Lopez is a "twofer" if he becomes a reliable starter, his contract is a bargain. If he ends up back in the pen, he has the stuff to close games, and the Braves can use that as well.
Atlanta Braves Plan B or C
Raise your hand if you like bullpen games because they’re so much fun! Yea, me neither. The Braves don’t like it any more than we do, and they want enough depth to end those debacles. It’s truth-in-advertising time.
- Elder is more likely to pitch as he did in the second half (5.11 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and a homer every seven innings) than his first half (2.97 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a homer every 10.6 innings.)
- Dylan Dodd’s stuff requires better command than he’s shown,
- Smith-Shawver has the stuff; he’s the guy if he learns to make adjustments, but he isn’t throwing 180 innings this year.
- Waldrep walks too many batters.
- Vines is Elder without a fastball; he’s a smart pitcher, but he’s not ready.
Last year, five starters made 107 starts; then it became pick-a-name-to-start -and-hope-he-has-a-good-day with Wright and Dodd making seven, Soroka and Winans six, Chirinos and Smith-Shawver making five, Allard made three, vines made two, and Chavez, McHugh, and Lee made one. Plans like that might not doom a season, but they don't work well in postseason play.
That’s a Wrap
There’s no question that The Atlanta Braves would prefer to have five starters they depend on to make 30+ starts, but they don’t have them. Maybe Lopez steps us to fill one of those vacancies. If not, he joins Huascar Ynoa as what we used to call a swingman.
GM Alex Anthopoulos is building two ways to try to guarantee our pitching doesn’t vanish in September. He’s already added arms to the bullpen and traded Wright for another former top-100 prospect to work there and perhaps make some starts.
He's actively trying to acquire a front-line starting pitcher to make the rotation as deep as the lineup, but there aren’t many of those around, and the Braves aren’t the only ones bidding. If Lopez has the kind of stuff that makes batters walk back to the dugout shaking their head. His heater is every bit as good as Strider's, if the Braves can help him locate his pitches well, batters have a real problem on their hands.