He did it again. No not another good outing from Wilton Lopez... Ed Wade! He's worked his magic yet again on the waiver wire picking up quite possible the most valuable member in the Astros bullpen. Luckily he's another rookie, so it's time for your favorite series of Prospect Week...Rookie Review.
Wilton Lopez was signed by the New York Yankees on April 30th 2002, he was decent but never great as he came through the Minor Leagues. He appears to of bounced around quite a bit in the Yankee's system at the lower A level before being release in March of 2007. He was picked up by the San Diego Padres two days later and played two years in their Minor League system before being picked up by the Astros April 10th 2009 off waivers. In the Padres system he again posted decent but not great numbers as a reliever.
Through out the minor leagues though there has been one recurring trend was his outstanding control. He never struck out a ton, but he didn't walk a lot of batters either. This trend continued into the Major Leagues, with a little Brad Arnsberg tutelage he's taken off. Let's dive into what Lopez has been able to accomplish this year.
Lopez had a good spring allowing no earned runs in six Spring Training innings. He did not break camp with the big league team however, and was reassigned to Minor League camp in the waning days of Spring Training. He did make an impression on the coaching staff and front office thought. When Sammy Gervacio made what would be his first of two trips to the 15-day disabled list, Lopez was the first reliever called upon.
First half of the season
Wilton had a decent first half of the season, In 33.1 innings he posted an ERA of 4.05. A batting average on balls in play (BABiP) of .330 indicated he was a little unlucky for the first half of the season. The most promising thing about him though was that he only walked five batters, one being an intentional pass, while striking out 22 for a strikeout to base on balls ratio (SO/BB) of 5.50. Tim Byrdak by comparison - and because I like to pick on him - had a SO/BB of 1.80 while also posting a 4.50 ERA in the first half of the season. Byrdak had double the walks in 11 less innings than Lopez.
Highlight: Lopez's nice recovery
Second half of the season
Lopez lit it up in the second half, becoming Brad Mill's go to reliever for late innings. He pitched to the tune of a 1.98 ERA in 27.1 inning and improved upon his already stellar SO/BB ratio. In 27.1 innings he struck out 22 batters and walked only one batter. That is a SO/BB ratio of 22.00. Tim Byrdak on the other hand - again because I like to pick on him - actually dropped his SO/BB to 0.78, walking eight more batters than Lopez. He also became less hittable in the second half allowing only 23 hits. With his 1 walk his WHIP was a wonderful 0.878 in the second half. Of course there is the issue of his usage, which Evan discussed earlier this month.
Highlight: Lopez get's Carter
Wilton Lopez has certainly stepped up and secured his status as one of the more reliable relievers in the bullpen. His command is outstanding evident by his BB/9 of .7, to go with a 6.5 SO/9 for a SO/BB ratio of 8.80 for the year. Good for second among relievers with at least 60 innings pitched.
His usage is a bit worrying, not the fact that he's gone 60.2 innings, more the back to back to back outings he's had. He's pitched in two plus games back to back fifteen times this season, three times he's pitched three games in a row and he's pitched four games in a row once. For Corpus Christi in 2009 he pitched 114 innings, so he's capable of racking up the innings, Mills just has to be careful with using him two many days in a row. With an offense that struggles to score runs this may be hard to accomplish.
I take that back he is the most valuable piece in the Astros bullpen.