Detroit Tigers: Celebrating Aurelio Lopez

DETROIT, MI - 1981: Catcher Bill Fahey #17 of the Detroit Tigers talks with pitcher Aurelio Lopez #29 during a game in the 1981 season at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - 1981: Catcher Bill Fahey #17 of the Detroit Tigers talks with pitcher Aurelio Lopez #29 during a game in the 1981 season at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we look back at the Latin players that joined the Detroit Tigers and left an everlasting impact. Today, we start with Aurelio Lopez

As far as Aurelio Lopez is concerned among Detroit Tigers fans, he is known as “Señor Smoke”.  One of the biggest reasons why the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984 was two trades that were pivotal to the bullpen. The first one is well known and probably will be talked about soon and that was the spring training trade in 1984 when Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman were traded to Detroit from Philadelphia for John Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson.

The other was for Aurelio Lopez in December of 1978 but at the time,  he was not the marque name in the trade. Instead, it was outfield and a year removed from being an All-Start, Jerry Morales. General Manager Jim Campbell always had an interest in Morales and manager Les Moss predicted that Morales was going to be “one of the top outfielders in the American League”

The trade:

Detroit gets: Jerry Morales (All-Star as a Cub in 1977) plays one season in Detroit and Aurelio Lopez

St.Louis gets: LHP Bob Sykes (bWAR after Detroit with St.Louis -1.6 bWAR) and John Murphy (career minor leaguer, out of baseball by 1981)

As Gary Gillette wrote in Lopez’s SABR bio, it wasn’t until Sparky Anderson arrived in July of 1979 that Lopez’s game really started to come alive. He named him his closer to replace  the retiring John Hiller and that’s when Lopez began to earn his reputation as “Señor Smoke”.  He went 10-4 with 21 saves and an ERA of 1.87 in the 48 times Sparky turned to Lopez.

I could summarize the rest of Lopez’s highlights in Detroit but Gillette’s bio does a great job of covering Lopez’s career.  The one angle I wanted to present is, I believe Aurelio Lopez’s style of pitching could be great as a bullpen opener in today’s game.

I will use three seasons in his time in Detroit, which was from 1979 to 1985, and look at how he faired against lefties and how many relief outings he pitched one or more innings (understanding how relievers were used differently back) with his three-pitch mix.  A screwball, fastball, and slider.

1979 Splits: 5.3bWAR season

Against lefties:  252 PA, .194/.285/.306 (42-for-216)

Innings pitched: 127

Multiple inning appearances: 45

Team record in appearances: 36-25

1983 Splits: (Lone All-Star Appearance) 2.1bWAR season

Against lefties:  244 PA, .257/.339/.448 (54-for-210) 9 home runs allowed but

Against righties: 229 PA .162/.242/.230 (33-for-204) 3 home runs allowed

Innings pitched: 115

Multiple inning appearances: 41

Team record in appearances: 39-18

1984 Splits: 1.8 bWAR season

Against lefties:  291 PA, .234/.313/.414 (60-for-256) 11 home runs allowed, held righties to a .207 batting average

Innings pitched: 137

Multiple inning appearances: 42

Team record in appearances: 44-27

Numbers translation

One of the most important stat lines to remember about Aurelio Lopez is this from 1984:

6 IP 5 H 6K 0.00 ERA

That was his post-season numbers in 3 games in 1984 with two appearances against the Padres.

The screwball could grab the outside corner against lefties, which served him very well throughout his career but later as the innings were piling on his arm, it could have played a role in his decline.

In this era, Lopez may of not been told to throw a screwball but if he was and it was effective, I would love to see how he could be used in the opener’s role and how those numbers would translate into statcast.  It is rare to see a reliever throw over 100 innings in a season. To translate that now, Buck Farmer, a righty like Lopez,  in 2019, threw 67.2 innings.

Baseball has changed so much since Lopez played. I only watched him pitch in highlights and what I have read is still true when you look at his stats. He was one of the most underrated and respected relievers the Detroit Tigers ever have had. A tip of the cap to Aurelio Lopez and his career as we celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. The proud native of Tecamachalco, Mexico wore the Olde English D very well.