Much of the conversation surrounding the National League East entering the season was focused on the Braves, the Mets and the Phillies. While many were expecting those three teams to be competing for the division, the early parts of the season have been less suspenseful than many were expecting as the Mets have gotten off to a hot start and are comfortably in first while the Phillies and Braves have struggled.
While it still seems likely that one or both of those teams will right the ship and give the Mets a race, the Miami Marlins are currently 17-19 and tied for second place in the division with the Phillies.
Recently, the Marlins have become known for developing fantastic changeups and they currently rank as the top team in Major League Baseball in changeups thrown this year.
While the Marlins currently rank as the 7th best pitching staff in terms of ERA and 15th in terms of FIP, they have been one of the best staffs in terms of limiting hard contact and generating swings and misses.
One pitcher who has benefitted from the Marlins fantastic pitching development is 26-year-old Pablo López.
López has been one of the best pitchers in baseball in the early going this season as he has 1.05 ERA and a 2.31 FIP over his first 43 innings and was even named National League Pitcher of the month for April.
López has pitched in parts of 5 Major League seasons, all with the Marlins, and has a career 3.69 ERA and a 3.61 FIP in 366 career innings. Even though he has yet to prove it over the course of a full season, López has solidified himself as a front of the rotation caliber starter.
While López is not an elite strikeout pitcher, he is very good at getting opposing hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone and ranks in the leagues 80th percentile in limiting hard contact.
López is mostly known for his dominant changeup, a pitch which he has increased his usage of in each of his Major League seasons and now throws nearly 40% of the time. López has thrown the most changeups of any pitcher in baseball this season and it is easy to see why that is the case.
The changeup López possesses is one of the most dominant pitches in all of baseball as opponents are hitting for just a .125 average against it this season and he is using it to generate swings and misses at a 45.3% clip.
Outside of the fact the pitch features 17.3 inches of horizontal movement on average, a large part of the reason why López is able to have so much success with this pitch is his ability to tunnel it off his low-to-mid 90’s 4-seam fastball. While the velocity difference between the fastball and changeup is only about 6.5 MPH, López is able to tunnel his changeup extremely well due to his lengthened arm-action, the fact he is able to maintain his arm-speed while throwing it and the fact that the pitches look similar for a large portion of the path towards home.
While the four-seam fastball ranks in only the 29th percentile in fastball spin and the 30th percentile in fastball velocity, he is throwing the pitch lower in the zone this season where it plays better off the changeup. While the four-seamer hasn’t been nearly as dominant as the changeup, his improved ability to command the fastball is doing wonders for him.
While it is very unlikely that López will be able to keep up these numbers all season, he is a legitimate candidate for the National League Cy Young Award based off his early season performance and should be getting much more national attention.
All statistics through the completion of games of May 16th, 2022