Three weeks after entering a game in the eighth inning up two runs on opening day and coughing up the lead, Wilton Lopez stood on the Coors Field mound with his team up 4-3 and a chance to lock up the Rockies ninth consecutive win and put Colorado ten games over .500 for the first time since 2010. It did not go well.
Didi Gregorius started the inning with a ground ball that dribbled perfectly between second and short for a hit. Then A.J Pollock chopped a weakly hit ball over the head of a drawn in Jonathan Herrera for a double down the third base line. Two batters latter, Arizona grabbed a 5-4 lead following an RBI ground out and sac fly. Lopez didn't get hit hard, but he got hit well enough to get tagged with another disappointing outing.
Minutes later, Eric Young Jr. grounded back to the pitcher with two on and two out to end the game. The Rockies would never again threaten to reach double digit games north of .500, and the club went on the play a brand of baseball that plunged them 23 games under. 500 over their final 145 contests.
Now of course, that wasn't all Wilton Lopez's fault, but he sure shouldered his share of the blame considering his role as a relief pitcher.
Following his blown save against D'Backs in April, Lopez actually pitched well the rest of the year. During his last 66 outings, he posted a 3.48 ERA and held opponents to a .319 on base percentage and a .399 slugging percentage while keeping his walk rate down. He was never the dominant ground ball pitcher the Rockies thought they were getting from Houston when Colorado dealt Alex White for him last winter, but the results were much, much better than the first three weeks of the season.
Or were they? You see, it was painfully obvious to anyone who watched the Rockies all year that Wilton Lopez was involved in far more bad moments than good. The two ugliest games came in April, but it's not like he completely turned the corner and stopped negatively impacting close contests when the calendar flipped to May.
For evidence of this, we turn to a stat called "Win Probably Added" (WPA). In short, it measures how much a player increased or decreased his team's chances of winning the game. So a pitcher who gives up a three run home run with his team up ten runs is not going to see his WPA impacted very much despite the poor outing. However, if a pitcher gives up a three run home run with his team up by two, he's going to get an extremely negative WPA for the day.
Knowing this, fangraphs tells us that Wilton Lopez had the most negative WPA of any pitcher (starter or reliever) on the roster. If we extend this out to hitters as well, Lopez still comes out in last with Jordan Pacheco placing second from the bottom.
For a more detailed look at his consistent failures during the innings that mattered most, here's a comparison of his best WPA games and his worst. First, a list games where he increased the Rockies chances of winning by at least 15 percent.
1. September 19. vs. St. Louis, entered in the 13th inning, tied game, bases empty, no outs
Pitched two scoreless innings with three strikeouts and no walks, WPA = 0.282
That's it for the positive list!
Now for the list of games where Lopez decreased the Rockies chances of winning by at least 15 percent.
1. July 25. vs. Marlins, entered in the top of the ninth, down one, bases empty, no outs
Pitched 0.1 innings, surrendered four hits and four runs, left down five, WPA = -0.159
2. August 6. @ Mets, entered in the bottom of the seventh, tied game, bases empty, no outs
Pitched two innings, surrendered one run, left losing, WPA = -0.182
3. September 8. @ Padres,entered in the bottom of the seventh, tied game, bases loaded, one out
Pitched 0.2 innings, allowed all three inherited runners to score, left down three, WPA = -0.208
4. May 30. vs Astros, entered in the top of the sixth, tied game, men on first and second, no outs
Pitched one inning, allowed both inherited runners to score as well as two more runs, left down four, WPA = -.272
5. April 12. @ Padres, entered in the bottom of the seventh, tied game, bases empty, no outs
Pitched one inning, allowed two runs, left down two, WPA = -0.311
6. May 27. @ Houston, entered in the bottom of the twelfth, tied game, bases empty, no outs
Pitched 0.2 innings, allowed two hits including a walk off double, WPA = -0.367
7. September 10. @ Giants, entered in the bottom of the eighth, ahead two, bases empty, no outs
Pitched one inning, coughed up two runs, left in a tied game, WPA = -0.372
8. June 14. vs. Phillies, entered in the top of the seventh, ahead two, man on second, one out
Pitched 0.1 innings, allowed the inherited runner to score as well as two more runs, left down one with two runners still on base, WPA = -0.473
9. April 21. vs. D'Backs, entered in the top of the ninth, ahead one, bases empty, no out
Pitched one inning and gave up two runs as described in the beginning of the article, left down one, WPA = -0.627
10. April 1. @ Brewers, entered in the bottom of the eighth, ahead two, bases empty, no outs
Pitched one inning, allowed three runs, left down one, WPA = -0.695
2013 Grade with the Rockies: D
Despite a final pitching line that doesn't look horrible, Lopez failed to come through time and time again when his team needed him the most, and no, that dreadful ratio of negative WPA outings over 15 percent to positive WPA outings over 15 percent had nothing to do with his role as a late inning relief pitcher. Last season in Houston, Lopez had more positive outings over 15 percent than negative outings below 15 percent.
His job was to preserve games, not post decent overall numbers. He didn't do that on a consistent basis at any point this season.
Lopez is under Rockies control for two more years but is arbitration eligible next season after making $1.76 million in 2013. It will be an interesting case because his overall numbers last season suggest he'll get a raise despite his struggles when it mattered most.
With all of this said however, Lopez could become a very productive pitcher for the Rockies in 2014. He's less than two years removed from his outstanding campaign in Houston in 2012 and still has the stuff to be an elite reliever for this team. He just has to put it all together and knuckle down more when he gets into trouble.