Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Is Lopez better than Giolito? Are all the pundits wrong?


Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong?  Photo via Layton getty images

Clearly the team is trusting Lopez more than Giolito; are all the pundits wrong? Photo via Layton getty images

So, I’ll start off by saying this is absolutely a “short sample size” post.  Reynaldo Lopez now has a grand total of four MLB starts (and just 4 AAA starts) and uber prospect Lucas Giolito himself now has the same number of total starts above AA as Lopez (3 in MLB, 5 for Syracuse).  But after last night’s dominant performance in Atlanta (7ip, 4 hits, 11 Ks and 1 walk in 101 pitches), I’ll ask the question that a lot of commenters have already been saying here: are we looking at the wrong guy as the next Ace in waiting from our farm system?

Here’s what’s striking me about Lopez; check out his Pitch FX data from last night’s start.   He threw 68 fastballs with an *average* velocity of 97.6mph, peaking at 99.5mph.   Yes he tired a bit in the last couple of innings, but (per the graph of his pitch velocity at the BrooksBaseball link) he only “slowed” to the 96-97 range … his overall heat earlier in the game kept his average well into the 97mph range.  That’s a very, very impressive velocity neighborhood, one where only two or three starters are living right now (amongst qualified starters … only Noah Snydergaard has kept a higher average fastball velocity this year than 97.6).  But I also watched him absolutely blow balls by hitters; the most impressive of which was a 98mph fastball right by Atlanta’s best  hitter Freddie Freeman to get a punch-out.

We’re not seeing that kind of velocity out of Giolito.   And we didn’t see this kind of performance either.

Literally every scouting analyst out there thinks Giolito is “the best pitching prospect in the game.”  Now, they’re not exactly light on Lopez; Lopez is routinely in the top 50 of all prospects in the minors, and generally listed #2 behind Giolito and Trea Turner on the 2016 lists.  So it isn’t as if nobody knows who Lopez is.  But results on the field at the MLB level in 2016 are hard to beat when it comes to doing comparisons.

Yes Atlanta is an awful team so perhaps over-reacting to 11 Ks is something to temper.   And both guys are clearly up-and-down (Lopez’ last AAA start was 5 runs in 6ip; Giolito’s last AAA start was 10Ks and 1 run in 7ip).   Two of Giolito’s three MLB starts were against the defending NL champ Mets (not exactly a pushover team offensively) while two of Lopez’s four MLB starts were against the trying-to-lose Mets (who might be starting one out-field player who would start on most other teams right now).

But what are you guys thinking?  I mean, clearly to me Lopez is staying in the rotation until he falters, so it may be a moot point for Giolito anyway (who is quickly running out of innings in 2016; he’s sitting at 117 1/3 right now, which is almost precisely what he threw in 2015, so factoring in a 20% increase he may only have 4 more starts in him).  Does Lopez have innings limit concerns too?  He’s never even thrown 100 innings and is already well past that in 2016…).  In fact, are we looking at an imminent shutdown of *both* prospects in the next couple of weeks?

I know how some of you are going to react to this post … cough cough MartyC and forensicane cough cough.  But how about the rest of you?  Is this heresy?  Is this a changing of the guard-type opinion?  Or is this just all SSS-driven nonsense that’ll be thrown out the window when Lopez gets pounded the next time he faces a half-way decent offensive lineup?

Written by Todd Boss

August 19th, 2016 at 11:21 am

18 Responses to 'Is Lopez better than Giolito? Are all the pundits wrong?'

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  1. Obviously small sample size applies… that said…

    Lopez is obviously more mentally ready to face big league hitters. He’s hitting his spots better and reacting to adversity better than Giolito did. They both have jaw dropping talent, but I think there are 2 reasons Giolito is consistently rated higher: 1, he throws 100 and has a wipeout 12-6 curveball. You just don’t see that all that often. And 2, he was a top draft pick with name recognition. He would have gone top 3 if he wasn’t hurt out of HS, and has long been a sweetheart of the scouts. So that helps prop him up.

    I still think that Giolito has a higher ceiling than Lopez due to his curve. But, at this point, it is hard to say who is going to be the more successful major league pitcher. At least from my perspective on my couch.


    19 Aug 16 at 11:36 am

  2. Not to be overly picky, but I think you have to define “better”. Lopez does look a bit more put together, just by being able to cruise through a game against “major league” talent. But both guys are clearly very good and you have to figure they’ll be legit major league starters for years. I think maybe Lopez is ready a little earlier, but it is pretty moot as they’re both running low on available innings and we’ll see how they are in March.

    kevin r

    19 Aug 16 at 12:12 pm

  3. No hot takes here – I’m just glad both are in the Nats organization. Kudos to Rizzo and his crew for picking them up either as an IFA gem (Lopez) or after several other teams had passed (Giolito).

    SSS, quality of opposition, both pitchers have been up and down at the major league level, all that stuff. People are WAY too eager (IMHO) to come to some sort of decision on players. The one thing that concerns me about Giolito is that he hasn’t flashed big velocity at the MLB level yet. OTOH, it’s not like scouts were just making [stuff] up about him either, so I’m not writing him off. Especially since Giolito is a tall pitcher (at 6’6″ a half a foot taller than Lopez) and tall pitchers are notorious for being slower to develop.

    John C.

    19 Aug 16 at 12:45 pm

  4. It’s exciting! Lopez’ start was the most promising effort we have seen from a Nats starter since Joe Cool and possibly longer. Whatever the lineup, as you said above, Freddie Freeman is who he is. At the very least, we can stop speaking about Lopez in terms of his being a relief pitcher.

    His asset of sustaining his velocity deep into games is an undervalued commodity, even if we are not velocity obsessed. When he is on, count on him being on three or more times through the lineup. That’s top shelf for me.

    Like John, I am happy the Nats have both Lopez and Giolito — that’s all that matters. Going back to what instigated this discussion, the presence of Lopez and the pace of his development MAY give the Nats unusual trade flexibility to target a cost-controlled superstar — should they need one in the offseason.

    Right now, Lopez for me is the Nats top prospect. I had Turner above Giolito and everyone, as we were debating here months ago. And like Lopez, it’s nothing against Giolito. But players like Turner, and going back to last year, were showing us their transcendence a lot faster than the pundits tell us what to think because of their measurables. In the end, if it were all about height and weight and raw power, etc, Nate Frieman would be the home run king and Felipe Rivero would still be in the Nats bullpen.

    In the end, the people who DOMINATE games, be they Lopez when he is on or Turner by his speed and the fact that he has the intangible *it* factor of winning, demonstrate who is the boss.


    19 Aug 16 at 1:05 pm

  5. Cough ..Cough.. ..Hey Todd. Welcome to the party. Better late than never to get on the Trae and Rey bandwagon. Opinions are fun, right?

    I hope Giolito pans out. As mentioned before, I like him as a prospect but just disagreed that he was #1 in all of baseball. With that label I was expecting absolutely electric stuff, and you must agree we were all doing a double take at the radar gun which kept flashing 94. Roark is pretty amazing at 94 so Lucas might turn out that style of good instead of Lopez – Syndergaard style we were expecting. Will be interesting to see how it unfolds, and hope it’s soon before too many miles get put on that elbow in the minors.

    I love seeing the young guys like Turner and Rey get their opportunity and exploit it. Jose Marmelejos is quietly having another great season. A solid very consistent hitter so far. Might he be in the mix at 1b next year if Zimm doesn’t get back in good form? He’s at AA now and doing well. Anyone know more about him?

    It has been brutal hot and humid here the last few weeks. If I were GM I would just give Strasburg 3 weeks of R&R during these stifling weather days (and Colorado) every year, and freshen him up for the stretch run and postseason. He just cannot pitch in this type of weather. That is getting pretty close to a fact (for your commenters who demand facts)

    Good idea by Dusty to pull Max early in Colorado too. Heavy workload piling up on these guys so no need to waste extra innings in the frustration known as Coor’s Field. I would start pulling all our big 3 starters an inning or two early now if it continues to look like we’re going to run away with this division.

    Marty C

    19 Aug 16 at 2:35 pm

  6. PB: not to be nit picky in your comment … but “Giolito throws 100” caught my eye. Says who? Here’s his pitch fx data; in 150+ fastballs at the MLB level his MAX velocity measured is 95.8. I’m starting to be in the same camp as MartyC; i also keep hearing about his upper 90s stuff, but why the F didn’t we see it at the major league level? Meanwhile, Lopez HAS upper 90s stuff and has shown it.

    JohnC: you’re exactly right; in prior comment discussions i’ve also said what you said and it was kind of the implication of the title; every pundit out there has Giolito as a better prospect than Lopez. Keith Law has repeatedly stated he thinks Lopez is a reliever in the long run. Stuff like that. I guess that article was kind of a hot take … but hey, my blog output has been weak lately and there’s nothing to “complain about” with the nats as they continue to cruise to a divisional title (9.5 games up today!).

    Todd Boss

    19 Aug 16 at 2:36 pm

  7. Lefty update: Sean Burnett acquired for cash considerations (probably a little more than “a dime dozen,” but not much) and sent to Syracuse.


    19 Aug 16 at 3:09 pm

  8. KW: i’ve got a “loogy specialist” post for subsequent arguing coming next week 🙂

    Todd Boss

    19 Aug 16 at 3:11 pm

  9. Great move to get Burnett back, who knows the team, the league, the pennant race, and whom Dusty saw in the spring and cut loose only late. He has something left in the tank and has not been overused in his first year back.


    19 Aug 16 at 4:11 pm

  10. Burnett: yeah pretty decent numbers in AAA this year: … 1.91 ERA across 3 orgs and 42.1 IP. Sounds like a 9/1 callup/tryout to me. I’ll mention him for sure in my loogy article next week.

    Todd Boss

    19 Aug 16 at 4:45 pm

  11. I am glad we have both, they are very good pitching prospects.

    I still think Giolito has the better career, and wouldn’t change that estimate based on a few starts for each guy. The issue with Giolito right now is command, not velocity. He has a long track record of being scouted, and I am sure his velocity is as it was reported, which isn’t 100, but more 96-97. But I think his frame and quality of secondary pitches is what will give him the better career, once he gets his command down.

    As for Lopez, I am thrilled with his last start but I can shake his similarities to Luis Severino, who had a phenomenal 2d half last year and has struggled mightily this year. We’ve seen him give up a lot of hard contact too, all of which makes me think his margin for error, as a relatively ‘little’ guy, is smaller than Giolito’s.

    The beauty of the Nats situation is that they don’t have to choose either. They really only have 1 spot available for the next few years, and the players will decide it for themselves based on performance.

    But I will take Ross over either of them, presuming that Ross doesn’t develop recurring injury issues like his brother.


    20 Aug 16 at 8:37 am

  12. Winnin’ ugly (Fri.), but still winnin’. And let’s be clear: Melancon was worth what we paid for him. His stuff is filthy, and he’s cold-blooded.

    Top prospect: if Turner continues anywhere near an .880 OPS, this one is no contest. I was touting him, but I didn’t expect him to be *this* good or do it this fast. (And yes, I know he won’t maintain .880.) It’s not just the base-running. If someone is in scoring position, he’s going to put a bat on the ball. As much as we value starting pitchers, if Turner is truly an all-star-level everyday player, he’ll trump a starter.

    Lopez vs. Giolito: as John and Fore said, we’ve got both of them. Unless there’s a trade to be had, there’s no choice between the two until there’s a regular rotation spot to be had next year. Then the choice becomes more Lopez/Giolito vs. Gio, or Ross. (Only a fool, or Matt Williams, would send Roark back to the ‘pen.)

    Yes, Lopez has two starts against the Barves, but don’t forget that his first two were against the Dodgers and at sold-out SF. Yes, Giolito did pitch at Citi against the Mets before they sank into the primordial ooze, and he was clearly a deer in the headlights. Stras has had more than a few of those types of appearances along the way, of course.

    I’ve always wondered where the pundits were getting 100 for Giolito, as I haven’t really heard 100 attached to him since HS (pre-TJ). But hey, 95-96 will play, particularly with his array of secondary pitches. That’s the biggest thing both he and Lopez have going for them: three or four plus pitches. They’ve just got to learn how to use them. Lopez clearly is adjusting. They’ve also got to be able to control them and spot them, the keys for taking any pitcher to the next level.

    What has Lopez “ahead” of Giolito right now is his personality – his swagger and his ability to stay unphased when the breaks go against him. His size (or lack of it) and swagger combine to remind me of Pedro.

    Both guys have already learned their most important lesson in baseball: that eventually, you reach a level where you can’t just blow everyone away. Even Max and Stras can’t. Watch those guys, boys, as well as Roark, and Melancon. You’ve got the tools, now learn the craft.

    But if I *had* to pick one right now, I’d roll with Rey . . . as much for his confidence level as for his stuff.


    20 Aug 16 at 9:01 am

  13. bWAR leaders in the NL for pitchers right now: Scherzer #2, Roark #4, Strasburg (thanks to his major melt down this week): #15.

    No, Roark isn’t going back to the pen. He should be in the conversation for NL Cy Young honestly.

    Todd Boss

    20 Aug 16 at 12:16 pm

  14. On Lopez–too early to make a definitive judgment, but I just don’t think Giolito is nearly as good as he’s been hyped up to be. I also wonder if their heritages were reversed and Lopez was the former 1st rounder with the huge signing bonus and the glitzy Hollywood familial connections and Giolito was the skinny Dominican kid signed for two packs of bubblegum, if Lopez wouldn’t in fact have been more highly regarded all along. Prospect lists seem to be based somewhat on hype, as what baseball writer could possibly watch enough film to be intimately familiar with every prospect?

    On the bullpen–I got a lot of pushback for saying that trading the team’s then-fourth best reliever (after Kelley, Treinen & Solis) instead of say, another prospect or two, for Melancon was a mistake. So how are we feeling about the state of the middle relief now after the Atlanta series?

    One positive is that at least Trevor Gott has pitched well at Syracuse since returning from the DL. Doesn’t help the lefty situation, but Gott has quite a bit more experience that Glover, who doesn’t look ready for prime time yet.

    Karl Kolchack

    21 Aug 16 at 7:36 pm

  15. Karl: I’m feeling a bit worse about the middle relief, but a lot better about the 8th and 9th innings. Rivero has also sucked against LH batters this year, so query how much he would help with the “lefty situation.” Finally, there’s no telling whether the Pirates would have taken a “couple of prospects” (at least, prospects that the Nats would have been willing to give up) rather than Rivero. They are a team that likely views themselves as contenders next season, and so having an MLB-ready talent that is still cost controlled is likely their premium consideration.

    John C.

    21 Aug 16 at 8:48 pm

  16. John C – you may be right (though maybe Cole and Voth would have gotten the deal done, we’ll never know), but I’ve also been saying that Rizzo’s tendency to treat lefty relievers as if they are $20 bills in the champagne room at the local strip club is really hurting the team now. Further, as I have also said, I wouldn’t have nearly as much of a problem with giving up Rivero had Rizzo made a another deal for additional reliable middle reliever.

    It’s great that the 8th and 9th innings look strong, but losing a key playoff game in the 7th inning will hurt just as badly as losing it in the 9th. Melancon won’t be able to erase the memories of Storen’s NLDS meltdowns if Petit, Belisle or Perez blow the lead before he gets a chance to pitch.

    Also, anyone else baffled as to why Dusty didn’t use Cole for the 8th and 9th innings on Thursday night with an 8-2 lead instead of Kelley and Melancon? Cole had specifically been added to the roster so he could eat innings if Lopez exited the game early, but instead he goes back to AAA not having been used at all leaving behind a a bullpen that’s gassed going into four games against the hard hitting O’s. That is NOT good bullpen management.

    Karl Kolchack

    21 Aug 16 at 10:58 pm

  17. You have a point on Cole, but the Nats made five errors yesterday. Even if only two runs resulted, the additional pitchers and batters extending the pitching brought Kelley in. Gio goes an extra inning without all of the drama.

    Do I think it would have been different with Rivero? The team would have blown Saturday, too.

    Burnett was acquired and he will be back, with playoff experience in tow. Glover has been given a chance and he deserves it. But he has underperformed so far. Gott will get his chance but is also unproven.

    At least the Nats are figuring this out before an Aaron Barret-style meltdown.


    22 Aug 16 at 4:12 am

  18. Just new-posted on the bullpen to have a “place” to discuss 🙂

    Todd Boss

    22 Aug 16 at 11:08 am

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