Jorge Lopez started his Major League career as a highly-touted prospect with the Milwaukee Brewers. However, after struggling to succeed as a starter, he was eventually traded from Milwaukee to the Kansas City Royals in 2018 and again to the Baltimore Orioles in 2020. Despite some promising performances, Lopez never quite found his footing as a starter in Baltimore, and by 2021 he had been moved to the bullpen.
What happened next was nothing short of remarkable. In the last month of the 2021 season, in appearances out of the bullpen, Lopez had a 1.85 ERA, and four strikeouts in 2.2 innings pitched. He had transformed himself into one of the most dominant relievers in the game.
This success continued into the 2022 season, with a 1.68 ERA, 54 strikeouts, 19 saves, and a 0.97 WHIP in 48.1 innings pitched with Baltimore.
Eventually, Lopez was traded to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline. He ended the season with a 2.54 ERA, and 72 strikeouts in 71.0 innings pitched as a reliever. He had finally found his niche in the majors.
Lopez's success is a testament to the idea that some struggling starting pitchers may benefit from a move to the bullpen. While starting pitchers are often viewed as the backbone of a team's rotation, some pitchers have trouble performing at their best over multiple innings. They may have nasty stuff but struggle with command or endurance.
Teams can often unlock their full potential by moving these pitchers to the bullpen. Without the pressure to pitch deep into games, these pitchers can focus on using their best pitches and attacking hitters for short bursts of time. They may also benefit from the reduced workload, allowing them to stay fresh and perform at their best.
Of course, not every struggling starting pitcher will succeed in the bullpen. But for those who do, the move can be a game-changer. Jorge Lopez is a perfect example of this, going from a struggling starter to a dominant reliever in just a few short seasons.
The point here is that teams should not be afraid to experiment with struggling starting pitchers by moving them to the bullpen. It may be just the change they need to unlock their full potential and become a valuable asset to their team. Jorge Lopez's success proves that sometimes, all it takes is a change in role to transform a struggling pitcher into a dominant force on the mound.