Reynaldo Lopez getting his ERA under 4.00 at the end of the 2018 season might not have seemed like that big a deal to most. But it was a nice reward for the then-24-year-old right-hander at the end of his first full season in the majors.
Lopez was the White Sox best starting pitcher in 2018, though that comes with its own discussion. Things are relative, of course, and James Shields' 34 home runs allowed and Lucas Giolito's 6.13 ERA weren't exactly challenging for the title. Carlos Rodon looked like an ace during a good chunk of the summer, but a nasty September changed the story of his season. So it was Lopez, who finished the season on an incredibly strong note, to end 2018 as the best hurler on the staff.
Is the same true heading into 2019? It's not difficult to argue that it is. Rodon's the one who will get the ball on Opening Day, but Lopez made some big strides in the closing months of the 2018 season, enough to make fans and observers wonder if he could again have the best season of any of the pitchers on the starting staff.
Lopez had his own inconsistencies in 2018. His ERA was under 2.00 at the end of April and still under 3.00 with one start to go in May. But during an 11-start stretch in June, July and August, he had a 6.64 ERA. But then he closed the campaign in sensational fashion, with a 1.38 ERA over his final seven starts.
While Giolito's first full season in the majors could still lead to better days in different ways, Lopez's was more what White Sox fans were expecting from a highly rated prospect, and it looks like a strong foundation on which to continue to improve. Lopez providing a reliable arm in 2019 would be huge for the White Sox, with other arms in the rotation still looking to iron out inconsistencies from a year ago.
And moving forward in the long term, Lopez continuing to improve can only be a great thing for the rotation of the future, where Lopez, despite his solid 2018, isn't expected to be a top-of-the-rotation guy. Those expectations belong to Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease. But if Lopez builds on what he did last year, that makes for a deeper rotation of the future, something a contending team needs.
Lopez might no longer have the top-prospect shine the Kopechs and Ceases and Eloy Jimenezes have at the moment. But he still holds a ton of importance for this team in the present and future.