Small move, big impact: Cardinals should pursue Javier Lopez

Cardsblog writers discuss Javier Lopez.

By Neel Kale, from Cardsblog.com

With the offseason lull officially setting in, we can start looking at minor moves the Cardinals can make to fill the holes in their roster. One such area is the bullpen. The Cardinals bullpen is already looking pretty solid, especially with the addition of Brett Cecil. Seung hwan Oh was almost historically dominant as closer last year. Oh joins forces with Kevin Siegrest, Brett Cecil and Trevor Rosenthal to make a formidable four-headed monster out of the bullpen.

However, as we all know come playoff time it never hurts to have a strong back end of the bullpen (looking at you, Giants). At the start of 2016, two lefties will be down for the count. Zach Duke is missing all of 2017 due to Tommy John, and Tyler Lyons is missing a good chunk due to a knee injury. Who can the Cardinals add to improve their bullpen depth? Well it's in the title but if you didn't know by now, it's Javier Lopez.

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Lopez is a 39(!) year old left handed specialist relief pitcher. He is also a four time World Series champion (three with the Giants, one with the Red Sox), and he's a free agent this year. His age and performance last season will make him a relatively cheap signing. A lot of teams have stayed away from him due to the aforementioned age and performance, but I think he's got a good amount left in the tank.

In decline?

"Hey wait a sec, isn't Javier Lopez that old, washed out pitcher that cost the Giants because he was bad at pitching?" you ask. That all depends on your perspective. See, if you look at Lopez's stats, you would assume he is now old and washed up, but there are a lot of indicators that say otherwise.

First of all, his decline in 2016 wasn't so much as a decline as it was a tumble down a cliff. "Wow that doesn't sound like a positive thing at all," you say. Well if you'll let me finish, I think it may be more of an indicator of a fluke year than a definite negative.

Lopez's FIP (fielding independent pitching) goes like this since 2010: 3.36, 4.17, 1.71, 3.16, 3.07, 2.41, 4.33, 3.36, 5.40. There's no real discernible pattern of decline there, just a spike in the last year. It's possible that Lopez just had one down year and could be poised for a bounce back year.

A common concern with aging pitchers is that as they age they lose velocity. Of course, that's just how the human body works, but some pitchers adjust better to that velocity dip than others. Lopez is someone who adjusted well.

According to Brooks Baseball, his velocity started dropping from its peak in 2010. Despite this, he had one of his best career seasons at age 35, posting a 2.41 FIP, a 1.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.07. He also had his career best in ERA (1.60) and WHIP (.0890) as recently as 2015, his age 37 season.

His velocity didn't noticeably drop from 2013 to 2016, so it doesn't appear that fatigue is truly harming Lopez. Lopez has also never been on the disabled list his entire major league career.

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All that may be fine and good, but is there any way to definitively know that Lopez isn't broken beyond repair. Well of course there is. Last year, Lopez was still able to do the job he was put on this earth to do: get lefties out. Lefties only managed a meager .208 BA and .312 SLG along with an 89 OPS+ against Lopez in 2016. With all this data, that begs the question: what exactly did cause Lopez's bad season?

The blame for this one falls on the Giants. Lopez has always been much more comfortable against lefties, where his submarining pitching style hides the ball from them until the last second. In 2016, the Giants' raging, tire fire of a bullpen forced Bruce Bochy to use Lopez in situations that he was not comfortable with.

Lopez's stats ballooned due to all the right handed hitters he was forced to face. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have bullpen depth all over the place. They could pick and choose exactly when they want to use Lopez, which is the optimal situation for him to be in.

Filling a need

Cardinal pitching did not actually struggle a lot against left handed pitching, but they are also currently devoid of a true left handed specialist. Among the core four (Siegrist, Oh, Rosenthal, Cecil), only Oh has truly dominant numbers against lefties, and as a closer he can't be used for matchups like other bullpen pitchers. Siegrist actually has worse splits against lefties, so he's out.

Cecil is too good at getting both lefties and righties out to limit him to that role. Rosenthal is almost certainly going to be the long man. As for the rest of the bullpen, Jonathon Broxton has worse splits against lefties and Matt Bowman falls into the same category as Cecil. The Cardinals have no lefty specialist, and Lopez could fill that role beautifully.

Although this isn't really a need, Lopez also has a prolific postseason resume. In the Giants' even year era (2010-2014), Lopez went 12.1 IP with 5 hits 1 run and 14 strikeouts. It always helps having an experienced bullpen pitcher in the playoffs, especially for those who haven't been to the postseason yet like Oh and Bowman.

In a true moment of defiance, you might interject once again: "who even needs a lefty specialist? The Cardinals did fine without one last year." That's true, but there is a lot of value in having a lefty specialist to give you matchup flexibility. Lopez is a weapon that can take on monsters like Schwarber, Rizzo and Votto without breaking a sweat.

Having him in the backup of the bullpen for those matchups is invaluable, especially for a team that missed out on the playoffs for one game. Ultimately, Lopez is cheap, good at pitching, and fills a hole the Cardinals need to fill. There's no telling when a free out against Anthony Rizzo might come in handy.

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We all remember it. Roy Oswalt stares at the catcher, taking in his signs. Skip Schumacher digs in, ready to pounce on whatever pitch comes his way. All is tranquil amidst the chaos of Game 3 of the NDLS.

© 2017 KSDK-TV


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