Are the Tables Turning On the Lopez-Arraez Trade?

Photo Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Arraez was unavoidable for most of the summer. ESPN rarely fixates on baseball unless they’re showing Shohei Otani highlights. MLB is a regional sport until the playoffs, which isn’t necessarily bad, but ESPN needs to appeal to a national audience. Still, when Arraez is flirting with a .400 batting average, it’s hard not to run a daily update.

On June 20, a local outlet said that the Pablo López-for-Arraez swap was getting embarrassing. López had given up five runs to the Boston Red Sox in 5.2 innings and owned a 4.40 ERA. Conversely, Arraez had just completed his third five-hit game in June. The Twins traded for López in late January and signed him to a four-year, $73.5 million extension in April. Minnesota needed pitching. But given that they finally had a full rotation, they needed López to be more than an average pitcher.

“Luis Arraez looks like a cinch to win the National League batting title, and he could threaten to become the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941,” wrote Joe Nelson on Bring Me the News. “Meanwhile, Pablo López, the right-hander the Twins received by trading Arraez to the Marlins, has been an average starting pitcher.”

After López’s complete-game shutout of the Kansas City Royals on July 5, a reporter asked him about the attention Arraez was getting. By mid-summer, Arraez was no longer flirting with .400. However, he was still hitting .384/.437/.476 and helping make the Miami Marlins relevant again. The preternaturally calm López smiled and said he didn’t feel pressure because of Arraez’s play.

Obviously, we play different positions, so it’s hard to compare a lot of things. And it’s very obvious the great impact Luis has had in Miami. I think everyone has seen all the attention he’s getting, and rightfully so, because he’s doing something no one has been able to do in decades. You can see he’s going out there with the same approach, the same mentality, of doing it for the team.

I just came in here and tried not to be anybody else. I tried to just come in here and let the Twins know who Pablo López is and then just like bring myself, bring my own stuff to the game. And then just let them know that I’m going to come in every day with the willingness to work as hard as I can to make sure that when I take the mound, I’m not doing it for myself but for the team – to put them in the best situation to win a ballgame.

Before López’s complete-game shutout of Kansas City, he had a 4.24 ERA and a 3.38 FIP. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at preventing home runs, walks, and hitting batters while producing strikeouts. How well is he pitching, regardless of the defense behind him? A pitcher with a low ERA and high FIP typically will regress and produce a higher ERA, and vice versa.

López’s ERA ballooned to 4.24 after the Oakland A’s touched him up for seven runs after the All-Star Break, but he had a 3.34 FIP. Throughout the season, López’s ERA has started to match his FIP. Following his eight-inning, 14-strikeout shutout against the New York Mets on Sunday, López has a 3.43 ERA and 3.33 FIP. He made the All-Star Game, is top-10 in the league for Cy Young votes, and has become a one-two punch with Sonny Gray at the top of the rotation. He may not be a bona fide ace, but he’s the kind of player the Twins need. They finally have a viable rotation, which alone should justify the trade.

Meanwhile, Arraez’s OPS has dropped from .900 to under .850. Before Monday’s games, he was hitting .349/.391/.448. He’s still an effective hitter but hardly historic. The Twins had to give something up to get something. They had Edouard Julien; Arraez was poor defensively and had an injury history. It was perfectly fair to believe the trade was lopsided in the middle of the summer. But the Twins traded from a surplus to address a need and filled out their rotation, and it’s starting to look like a pretty good deal.

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