Rodrigo Lopez: Better Than You Think

In honor or Rob Neyer announcing himself as one of us, I’m going to pull out one of his favorite toys, the Player A/B comparison. The numbers are from 2010.

Player A: 215 IP, 2.46 BB/9, 5.05 K/9, 43.4% GB%, 4.60 xFIP, 88.0 MPH FBv
Player B: 200 IP, 2.52 BB/9, 5.22 K/9, 37.6% GB%, 4.70 xFIP, 88.2 MPH FBv

Pretty similar, yeah? Let’s go with career numbers, for more context.

Career:

Player A: 1,675 IP, 2.73 BB/9, 6.01 K/9, 40.2% GB%, 4.49 xFIP, 88.5 MPH FBv
Player B: 1,246 IP, 2.76 BB/9, 5.84 K/9, 41.9% GB%, 4.42 xFIP, 89.3 MPH FBv

I’m going to go with Still Very Similar for $200, Alex. They certainly weren’t treated as equals this winter, though.

Player A is Bronson Arroyo, who signed a three year, $35 million contract despite already being under team control for 2011. Player B is Rodrigo Lopez, who signed a non-guaranteed, minor league contract with an invite to spring training yesterday.

Now, let’s be clear – there are differences between Arroyo and Lopez. Arroyo has thrown 200 Major League innings in six consecutive years, while Lopez’s 2010 was his first year getting full time work in the big leagues since 2006. He had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and has spent a couple of years working his way back to the big leagues after rehab.

Arroyo also has performed slightly better than Lopez in two categories not listed above – HR/FB rate and BABIP. For his career, Arroyo’s allowed home runs on 9.8% of his fly balls and has a .282 batting average on balls in play. Lopez, meanwhile, has given up home runs on 11.9% of his fly balls, and his batting average on balls in play is .299. These differences drive their career ERA gap, but even that isn’t as large as their respective reputations might have you believe.

Lopez’s career ERA is 4.85, just a bit worse than his xFIP due to the inflated home run rate. Arroyo’s career ERA is 4.19, a bit better than his xFIP due to the deflated hit rate on balls in play. However, even these numbers don’t suggest a drastic gap between the two. Extrapolated to 200 innings, the ERA gap is equal to about 15 runs per year, and that’s if you don’t add in any regression for HR/FB or BABIP from their career averages.

Given their similar BB/9, K/9, and GB%, the actual gap in talent is probably a bit smaller than ERA would suggest. I’d guess it’s probably more like 10 runs per year, which gives Arroyo some credit for his history of holding his BABIP down, but also reflects the variation in that kind of skill.

10 runs per year is equal to about one win. Even if you want to give him the credit for the full 15 runs, that’s only a slightly higher win value. If you want to be aggressive with playing time projections in order to factor in Arroyo’s durability, maybe you can push that all the way to two wins, but it’s basically impossible to argue for any gap beyond that.

A one-to-two win gap between similar-ish pitchers just does not justify an extra $11 million per season with an additional two year commitment. The Braves essentially got Bronson Arroyo Lite for free, while Bronson Arroyo Home Premium cost as much as Paul Konerko. That just doesn’t make sense.

A lot of teams could have used a guy like Rodrigo Lopez at the back-end of their rotation, especially at an asking price not that far over the league minimum. It’s not like Lopez landed in a great situation with the Braves, as their pitching depth makes it questionable whether he can even make their rotation. Given all the money being thrown around this winter, there should have been some cash – and a major league rotation spot – available for Lopez.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

63 Responses to “Rodrigo Lopez: Better Than You Think”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Rodrigo Lopez appears to be a walking insurance policy.

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  2. Bronson Arroyo finished 12th in Cy Young voting….ridiculous.

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  3. Scout Finch says:

    Is Rodrigo Lopez the latin Greg Maddux ?

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  4. B N says:

    I think a lot of this has to do with proving health. Lopez was at one point in time a pretty attractive starter (fantasy-baseball relevant, even), but injuries have long separated him from those performances. While it’s true that his upside is probably like Bronson Arroyo, nobody is going to pay for Bronson Arroyo upside but with injury risk. They’d rather blow their money on Sheets upside with injury risk.

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  5. Paul says:

    Rodrigo Lope career:

    ERA: 4.85
    FIP: 5.21
    tERA: 5.13
    xFIP: 4.70

    He is the poster child for Cameron’s brand of analysis, invent a statistic to prove that a crappy player is just as good as one a guy that all of us knuckledraggers think is the bees knees. Seriously, can anyone remember xFIP-based analysis that helped answer a serious question?

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    • Telo says:

      Well, the reason his xFIP looks good is because he gives up the longball… so while I don’t agree with what you said, I agree that this article was fairly weak. It seems like this guy really does give up more homers than average.

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      • Paul says:

        But you realize that you just agreed? If a guy can improve his xFIP by giving up a lot of home runs, that gives it value how? Without even reading the Cain column yet, I’d be willing to bet that he claims Cain will actually be a better pitcher when his HR rate goes up. We’re in sophists hanging out in the square provoking arguments territory here.

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      • sean says:

        I’m pretty sure you don’t understand what goes into these numbers. At all.

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      • Paul says:

        Sean: How does my post not make clear that I understand that xFIP is a regression of a given player’s HR rate to the league average?

        Do you not understand why some people might have a problem with that?

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  6. Canadian Bay says:

    In this situation I believe statistics alone can’t tell the whole story. Although the numbers are incredibly similar, Arroyo has proved that he possesses something that can frustrate hitters and induce weak contacts, which result in a low BABIP. I point to his pitching motion (the high leg-kick) as the reason.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Not to me to mention that arroyo has pitched 200+ innings 6 seasons in a row, while Lopez has done so twice in his career.

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    • Jason B says:

      “Arroyo has proved that he possesses something that can frustrate hitters”

      Dreadlocks? Surfer-dude persona? A band?

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Did you bother reading the next sentence?

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      • Jason B says:

        So the factory where you were produced didn’t switch the “humor” setting to “ON”, no? I don’t know if you can reach your own switch; if not have someone fiddle with your factory presets a little. Life will be more fun that way.

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      • B N says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s the band.

        Though if one is wondering what he possesses that frustrates GM’s, it’s his interviews…

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  7. Marver says:

    I don’t think any of this proved that Rodrigo Lopez is better than I think. He’s a 1 WAR pitcher, no better than 5th/6th starter on a team that wants to make the postseason. The raw data comparisons between Arroyo — who I also don’t consider great — and Lopez conveniently forget Arroyo’s considerably lower HR/FB career rate, and Arroyo’s 4% higher IFFB %. A career made in Boston and the bandbox that is Cincinnati is hard to contextualize next to someone who has thrown lower quality, practically meaningless innings for his entire career.

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  8. Brian Cartwright says:

    Arroyo’s park-adjusted wOBA derived ERAs (no sequencing) the past three years
    4.60, 3.80, 3.21 – 200+ IP in all heading into age 34 projection 3.99

    Lopez missed all but 34 IP in 2008 to injury, last two years
    4.76, 4.65, 200+ IP last year heading into age 35 projection 4.98

    BB & SO rates similar, but Lopez could be expected to allow 0.5 HRs and a run more than Arroyo per 9 IP.

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  9. Mark says:

    You make a good argument as far as the fact that Arroyo got a ridiculous deal. No disagreement there. However, I think Arroyo has earned his keep over Lopez. Let’s not get too excited about last season as far as Lopez goes. He sort of died in the second half. I’d take a flier on him, but that’s it. Arroyo is a certified starter.

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  10. Michael says:

    Mr Cameron,

    I don’t mean to sound annoyed or angry at all- but just a heads up:

    Back when you guys were hiring, I sent you an idea for a column that I had in which I would review the career of a player whom never really enjoyed mainstream success. The example that I sent was entitled, Better Than You Think: Dave Collins.

    I just wanted to bring that to your attention Mr. Cameron. As a guy who writes and reads a lot. I know it’s very easy to read something, not think much about it, and accidentally use similar language later. I also understand that it’s entirely possible that you never saw my application (I’m certain you guys received a lot of interest).

    However, I felt I should send you a heads up.

    If you have any questions or concerns regarding this manner, please email me at the email address included.

    Thanks, and please continue the great work. Fangraphs is a fantastic website and among my daily reads.

    Michael

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    • T says:

      Are you for real? Would you like a dollar for the title?

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Wow! I never knew you were the originator of the phrase “better than you thought.”

      You should let andrew sullivan know: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/05/drones-better-than-you-thought.html

      And The thousands of others on the internet using this phrase.

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      • Michael says:

        good to know, never read Sullivan before.

        That said, I trust if you read my comments, I’m not berating the guy or anything. In fact, I’ve been nothing more than incredibly gracious. I don’t want a dollar, or recognition. I just figured it was worth his attention, if he had in fact read my piece, which I emailed to the guy like 2 months ago.

        That’s all.

        I’m a huge fan of the site, and respect and admire Cameron’s baseball writing.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        It’s an incredibly common phrase. Before you emailed it to Cameron he probably read it a thousand times. In fact before you wrote it, you probably read it a thousand times. You didn’t invent the phrase!

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    • Paul says:

      Did you ever stop to think that perhaps when the great Dave Cameron read your submission he thought, “What!? Doesn’t this clown know I invented that phrase?”

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      • Michael says:

        again, I think folks are just being negative for the sake of being negative. Re-Read my original post, I clearly state that it’s possible he didn’t even read my post.

        I also am aware of it being a common phrase, however, it just was odd to see a very similar title to somehting I wrote and submitted, like 90 days ago.

        I wasn’t aware of the numerous Player X: Better than you think posts on blogs all over the web before today. So what? Your reactions are about 100% more idiotic than mine.

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    • Bill Simmons says:

      Actually I invented every idea ever used on the internet.

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    • fredsbank says:

      i once wrote a comment called ‘better than yours’

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    • AndyS says:

      Mr. Cameron,

      I don’t mean to sound annoyed or angry at all- but just a heads up:

      Back when you guys were hiring, I sent you an idea for a column in which I could do advanced statistical analysis on players using sabermetrics. The example that I sent in used non-mainstream stats to rate players.

      I just wanted to bring that to your attention Mr. Cameron. As a guy who writes and reads a lot, and looks at baseball stats a lot. I know it’s very easy to read something, not think much about it, and accidentally use similar sabermetrics. I also understand that it’s entirely possible that you never saw my application (I’m certain you guys received a lot of interest).

      However, I felt I should send you a heads up.

      If you have any questions or concerns regarding this manner, please email me at the email address included.

      Thanks, and please continue the great work. Fangraphs is a fantastic website and among my daily reads.

      AndyS

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    • theperfectgame says:

      You’re probably getting more crap than you deserve, Michael, but if your top priority really was bringing this to the Fangraphs writers’ attention, you should have just e-mailed them. There’s a “Contact Us” link at the bottom of the site (just like on roughly 100% of other websites).

      Whether you intended it or not, your initial comment reads like you’re looking for praise and/or attention from either Dave and the Fangraphs writers or the Fangraphs community at large. I’m not gonna give you a hard time about it, ’cause I think I get where you’re coming from. But if you were wondering why the response to your comment has been overwhelmingly mocking, that’s why.

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      • B N says:

        I am a bit torn on this. While on the one hand, I can get where he’s coming from about writing something- then seeing it in print under someone else’s byline… you just don’t say that. At least not publicly. Unless someone has blatantly ripped off a truly unique idea.

        In my opinion, even if someone did imitate your language… so what? I mean, just thinking about this in Golden Rule terms… I do not want Mr. T to come knocking on my door to inform me about his opinion of all the times I have repeated the phrase “I pity the fool!” Hence, I think people should probably extend the same courtesy that Mr. T extends to me.

        So to recap:
        1. All writers experience conscious and subconscious influences that lead them to repeat phrases and entire ideas that others thought of.
        2. Moreover, even when they don’t, writers that share the same information sources will often present similar or almost identical material by parallel evolution.
        3. Unless something is a blatant faux pas, writers do not call each other out on that.
        4. Especially in public.

        Hence, my feeling is that if Michael wants a job in writing, he would probably do well to work on either a thick skin or a much more humorous delivery for such statements. Otherwise, he will get flamed as shown above.

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  11. Evan says:

    Should’ve been titled “Bronson Arroyo: Not As Good As You Think”

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  12. Stealy McCopycat says:

    Keep it up, Cammy! You’re accumulating plagiarism busts at an outstanding pace!

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  13. Michael says:

    Listen, I don’t think he copied or stole anything.

    I like to write, a lot. I also read, a bunch. About a year or so ago I read a couple Cormac McCarthy novels and realized that while I wrote for recreational, that I had accidentally slipped into a style similar to his. Though mine sucked, because well, I’m not that good of a writer and McCarthy is awesome.

    There’s a good chance Cameron didn’t even see my piece- I just wanted to give him a bit of warning, in case he had, and hadn’t realized it while making his post. I’d imagine when one produces content on a daily basis, they’re going to mistakenly repeat stuff with out meaning too.

    BTW, I hope I’m lucid, I minor surgery today and am on pain killers.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Well stop posting while on medication, because you are making a fool of yourself.

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    • James says:

      No, you have indeed made an utter fool of yourself and the other commenters have merely pointed out your folly. You are trying to take credit for a phrase that is so ubiquitous that: (a) Dave must have seen it dozens of times before your email; and (b) you must have seen it dozens of times before your email. Add in (c) that we don’t even know that Dave ever read your email in the first place, and the whole affair becomes unintentionally comical. It’s analogous to taking credit for an underrated/overrated list.

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    • Michael says:

      thanks for the links, had not seen those before. It appears to be a more common title than I had believed.

      However, I must stress- in my original post, I even posted that it was absolutely possible that Cameron hadn’t even seen my piece.

      It’s not like I’ve been accusing him of stealing my material or demanding that he not use my stuff.

      I just thought that in the event that he’d read my post and it stuck, without him recognizing it, he might want to know,

      I was really trying to be considerate, that’s all. Re-reading my posts, I’d have to say that anyone who thinks I’ve crossed the line really needs to grow thicker skin. I’ve been nothing but 100% civil.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      I never accused you of being uncivil, I was pointing out that you were embarrassing yourself. Just a heads up that if you are going to accuse someone of plagiarizing you, you should make sure to actually something worth plagerizing.

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      • Michael says:

        and you’re ignoring the fact that I stated plainly that there was a very good chance that he hadn’t even seen my piece.

        It was just a heads up, you’re being a dick for the sake of being one. I never accused him of taking my material. I only stated that it was possible (but again, not certain) that one little nugget of something I wrote may have stuck with him for whatever reason.

        This was before I was aware of the numerous other blog entries over the years with similar titles.

        If anyone is crossing the line, it ain’t me.

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  14. GZ says:

    In fairness to the Reds, the NPV of Arroyo’s deal is around $29 million according to the union. Also, they shaved Arroyo’s salary for 2011 from $13 million to $6.5 million, thus freeing up quite a lot of money. Considering their window is right now, this is very valuable.

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  15. There’s only one number I’m looking at: 37 homers! I didn’t even have to look it up, that number is so silly I remember it

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  16. Telo says:

    Can we all agree on something about the title of this piece…

    It’s shitty.

    Honestly, I’m surprised you’re even trying to take credit (for planting the seed in Cameron’s mind grapes.)

    It’s like reading a headline in the newspaper:

    THING HAPPENS IN CITY: PEOPLE OUTRAGED

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  17. See, now that just seemed mean. Not every title is going to be a clever #tag, ya know?

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  18. Besides, it’s pretty controversial: I, for one think rodrigo is negative good and therefore was curious to see someone defend the schmo

    Did I mention he gave up 37 bombs? That is not good. He throws BP out there

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  19. shoewizard says:

    Lopez’s HR/FB ratio was only a little higher in 2010 than it was in most of his seasons when he threw a lot of innings, which is to be expected pitching so many games in Chase Field and Colorado.

    There really isn’t much that’s “inflated” about his HR rate.

    He’s not nearly as good as Arroyo, and nothing in the numbers Dave posted convinces me otherwise.

    Although he was decent enough through his first 8 starts, he really didn’t give the team much of a chance to win over his last 25 starts. He might do a bit better in the NL East though……..more parks that are difficult to homer in compared to Chase Field, including his new home park.

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  20. Bill Simmons says:

    Dave Cameron stealing column ideas? No way!

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  21. brad says:

    “A one-to-two win gap between similar-ish pitchers just does not justify an extra $11 million per season with an additional two year commitment.”
    But… isn’t a win valued at roughly $5 mil? Meaning that if two wins is the true difference between them, which, despite the quite respectable argument in the piece I think is more likely, then the difference between them is being valued almost exactly as it should be. As for the difference in contract length, Arroyo is the more certain commodity. Lopez probably is better than I thought, and Arroyo’s contract probably wasn’t the best idea, but still.

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  22. ToddM says:

    I’d try the title:

    SLOW NEWS DAY: THROWING (STUFF) AT A WALL — IS THIS STICKY?

    Naw, that’s too long.

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  23. neuter_your_dogma says:

    So we can at least agree that Dave made the correct no-hire decision.

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  24. Seattle Slew says:

    So Dave never did a Better Than You Think piece prior to two months ago? Sound suspicious to me. Will Dave acknowledge whether or not he saw his application? \Hmmm

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  25. Luke M. says:

    All this proves is that Arroyo is ridiculously overpaid. Lopez is still as bad as we think he is. Saying he’s almost as good as another crappy pitcher does not help his cause.

    In conclusion -
    Arroyo stinks and is overpaid.
    Lopez stinks more and is fairly paid.

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  26. Merlin says:

    Lopez is a BAD BAD BAD pitcher. Kenshin Kawakami has better numbers and the Braves sent him to AA eating his 6 million salary. Arroyo continues to be over paid in Cincinnati. He’s a 5th starter at best these days but the numbers here make him look worse. His WHIP is better than Lopez as are his leverage numbers. I’m not an Arroyo fan and never understood why he gets what he gets, but Lopez is just plain bad.

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  27. sam.carpita says:

    Michael,
    stick to your guns. You are absolutely correct. No one should take from the ideas of others without credit, and the timing of your submission makes this supsicious. I think you’ve handled it appropriately.

    Ignore what the posters are saying to you. They are a bunch of middle-aged men then sit around and criticize others to feel good about themselves probably because they’ve never been on a date before.

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  28. DownwiththeDH says:

    Well that was a waste of time.

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  29. neuter_your_dogma says:

    “Rodrigo Lopez: Better Than You Think” – naaaah.

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