In the past two entries in an attempt to repair a broken team, we looked at Chone Figgins and Dustin Ackley. The two make up a reasonably probable combination of second and third basemen for much of next season. However, if the Mariners attempt to avoid paying Ackley another arbitration year, they’ll need someone to hold his place until he is ultimately called to the big club, likely in mid-June.
The problem is that with limited budget space, the Mariners will have to find a guy who can competently play both second and third base, and won’t embarrass the club at the plate. But what the last two offseasons have shown is that players with league average bats, and average-below average defense at multiple positions simply aren’t as marketable as they once were.
Felipe Lopez is one of those guys. After a 2008 season where he lost an arbitration case that gave him a $4.9 million salary, and Lopez coming of a 0.9 WAR season in 2008, Lopez signed a $3.5 million deal to play for Arizona for a year. He’d flourish in Arizona, and later Milwaukee after being traded in July, en route to a 3.9 WAR season. According to Fangraphs, in 2009 Lopez was worth $17.5 million. He wouldn’t receive close to that in the offseason.
Also, in the face of a recession, teams have been less willing to sign Type A free agents. Teams don’t want to exchange a draft pick for a player who won’t make major contributions, or in the case of many utility players, won’t have a truly defined role on the team. Having a league average bat that can be plugged into multiple positions holds some value with clubs, but that value appears to be trending down. Lopez was one of many who have been victimized by the recent emphasis on avoiding marginal Type A free agents.
It appears that won’t be the case for Lopez going into the 2010 offseason, as his 2010 performance appears to have dropped him to Type B status, which means that his signing team will not have to give up a draft pick, and that the team he comes from (St. Louis Cardinals) will be awarded a compensatory round pick.
The major downside, obviously, of sliding down to Type B status, is that it comes at the hands of a poor 2010 performance. So while teams may be more willing to discuss bringing Lopez in, the chances of him receiving a large raise on his $1 million 2010 salary are not very good.
So how can Lopez help the Mariners?
Well apart from a wRC+ of 96 for his career, Lopez has 5156 innings at shortstop, 2636.1 innings at second base, and 1231 innings at third base for his career. According to UZR, his defense gets closer to league average respectively. He’s a -10.8 UZR/150 for his career at short, -1.3 at second, and 3.4 at third. In terms of WAR, Lopez is only 1.9 behind Jack Wilson for his career, while amassing over 300 less plate appearances, though both of their careers began in 2010.
Utility is great, but there is a reason why teams have shied away from signing utility men to big dollars, because while they may act as insurance, limiting the deductible on the premium has become more important. That stated, in the case of the Mariners, where Lopez’s successor is waiting in Tacoma, the same guy that plays second base for the first two months of the season will need to have a function on the roster after Ackley is brought up.
An interesting fact about Lopez, and a surprising amount of the league’s switch hitters, is that he actually hits better from the right side than the left. Logic would dictate that player who hits better right handed would be a poor switch hitter, as he’d see a disproportionate majority of right-handed pitchers, and thus deviate from his strong side of the plate on most at bats.
But since Ackley is left-handed, and has performed poorly against lefties so far in the minors, Lopez could become a viable platoon partner. Also, while his defense is far from stellar at shortstop, he’d be an offensive upgrade over both Jack and Josh Wilson against even right-handed pitchers. Lopez’s 76 wRC+ tops Jack’s 64, and Josh’s 72.
However, Lopez’s ugly 2010 can’t go unanalyzed. Is Lopez really as bad as his 2010 season?
It’d be easy to look at Lopez’s career .316 BABIP, and his 2010 BABIP of .272, and dismiss 2010 as bad luck. Lopez had long been a guy with a ton of physical tools, but one who rarely put them all together for a full season. But in most seasons, Lopez has done some things really well. That hasn’t been the case in 2010.
It’s interesting to examine Lopez’s peripheral stats from 2005, a year when he hit 23 home runs for Cincinnati, compared to his 2010 stats. Lopez line drive percentage in 2010 is 18 percent, the lowest output of his career, though his numbers have remained pretty steady between 19 and 20 percent for most of his career. 2005 however, was a season where Lopez hit a career-high 53.2 percent ground balls.
Why would a season where Lopez hit so many groundballs also yield his highest home run total?
Well, despite hitting a lower percentage of fly balls than he has in any other year, Lopez boasted an eye-popping 18.3 HR/FB percentage. It would be really easy to again dismiss the deviation in production as luck, as Lopez hasn’t topped 10.1 percent in any season apart from 2001, when he hit only 63 fly balls. However, one must wonder how much playing in Cincinnati helped Lopez that season.
According to Baseball Reference, Great American Ballpark had a park factor of 103 that season (anything over 100 favors hitters), while Busch Stadium III boasts a 98 park factor this year. However, the environment was different that year, as homeruns have decreased by about 7 percent since then.
So in a hitter’s park, and a more friendly home run environment (ahem, the tail end of the steroid era) Lopez hit more home runs.
But last year, fueled by an inflated BABIP, Lopez managed to produce in Arizona (110 park factor) and Milwaukee (95 park factor). So what gives?
Well, Lopez already inflated .348 BABIP in Arizona rose to .372 in Milwaukee.
So while his 86 wRC+ in 2010 comes in part as a result of bad luck, his great 2009 shouldn’t receive a disproportionate amount of credibility, as his luck was incredibly good that season.
Either way, if Lopez is willing to take a one year deal, or even a minor league deal with the opportunity to start for two months and play considerable time afterwards, he’d be a good fit for Seattle’s needs.
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