Braves: Reynaldo Lopez is proving velocity is overrated

MLB: APR 24 Marlins at Braves

Over the last couple of decades, baseball as a whole has placed an emphasis on velocity. From an early age, pitchers are training night and day in an attempt to gain an extra mile per hour on the heater. It’s the easiest way to get noticed by colleges, and teams will even take more chances on you at the professional level if the velocity is right.

There’s no question that velocity plays. The harder the pitcher throws, the more likely he is to get away with a mistake. When looking at the best pitchers in the game, most of them possess a well above average fastball. There is a method to this madness, but as we’ve seen this season from Reynaldo Lopez, velocity is merely part of the equation.

The Braves turned a lot of heads when they said they were going to try Lopez out as a starter again soon after they signed him this past offseason. The last time he received consistent starts at the major-league level was back in 2019, and there’s a reason he was moved to the bullpen, where his career really began to take off.

But Alex Anthopoulos likes to zig when others are zagging. It’s what makes him the best in the business, and Reynaldo Lopez has handled the transformation about as beautifully as one could have imagined. Through seven starts, he boasts a 1.34 ERA with a 2.99 FIP and 8.9 K/9. Lopez is pitching the best ball of his career, and he’s doing it while taking a lot off of his fastball.

As a reliever, Lopez’s heater sat at 98.2 MPH on average. That number is down to 95.2 MPH this season. The reason for the change is obvious. Reynaldo Lopez still has the high 90s heater in his back pocket when needed, but in order to go deeper into games, he can’t be going max effort with every pitch.

In turn, Lopez has made up for it with his location and sequencing. Nobody would ever know that this is a pitcher that hasn’t made multiple starts in a season since 2021, and he’s not alone.

Reynaldo Lopez is one of three players this season that have made the switch from reliever to starter with lots of success, and all three of them have taken their foot off the gas in the velocity department.

Of course, it’s still early in the season. Reynaldo Lopez isn’t going to finish the year with a 1.34 ERA. If he even maintains a sub-3.00 ERA for the entire season, it will be much better than anybody could have expected.

However, while the sample size is small for a starting pitcher, it isn’t for a reliever. Lopez owns a 1.34 ERA and 8.9 K/9 through 40.1 innings this season. Last year, he pitched 66.0 innings and recorded a 3.27 ERA and 11.3 K/9. ┬áThe strikeouts may be down a touch, but any pitcher would take that in order to shave a full two runs off their earned run average.

It just goes to show that, while velocity will always have a place in this game, there are other aspects of pitching that can lead to much longer careers. Lopez seems to have figured that out early on with the Braves, which could make the three-year, $30 million contract he signed the bargain of the entire offseason.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

 

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