Jose Lopez and 2005

Dave · September 17, 2004 at 12:37 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I made a pretty long post about Jose Lopez about a month ago, so I’m going to try and stay away from rehashing the arguments about Lopez’s future potential and value. I am wondering, however, why nearly everyone views him as a viable option as the Mariners starting shortstop or even third baseman next year.

Regardless of whether you think Lopez is going to be a superstar, you have to admit that the current version is not a productive player. His .234/.265/.383 line gives him a VORP of -0.1. He’s basically the definition of a replacement level shortstop, giving the Mariners the same production as they could find by signing a minor league free agent this offseason.

How likely is it that he’ll make the jump from replacement level to useful contributor next year? Slim to none. PECOTA (which basically nailed Lopez’s 2004 performance on the button) had Lopez’s value in 2005 at about 0.7 wins and a .246 EqA, meaning he’s just a hair above replacement level. To be simply “average”, he’d have to hit his 75th percentile projection. To expect much more out of Lopez next year than a .250/.290/.400 line is unrealistic. Even the most optimistic comparisons for Lopez struggled in their age 21 seasons in the majors. At that age, Tejada hit .202/.240/.333 in 98 at-bats, then followed it up with a .233/.298/.384 season a year later. He didn’t even become useful until age 23 or productive until 24.

So, if we expect that Lopez is going to perform at or near replacement level next year, why on earth would you go into spring training with him as your number one option? Even if you want him to take the job, it is incumbant upon the Mariners to bring in another replacement level shortstop to provide depth and an alternative in case of injury or struggles. Making Lopez the unquestioned starter while simultaneously expecting a performance equal to what you could get for a non-roster invitee is foolish.

In my mind, it isn’t even a question that the Mariners need to sign a cheap alternative shortstop to seriously challenge for the position. If spring training rolls around and Lopez has made monstrous improvements, you simply cut the NRI or make him the backup. However, if Lopez hasn’t made strides and appears to be on his way to posting another season at least as mediocre as what you can get from the veteran-of-the-day, send him to Tacoma and save the service time.

Players develop in Triple-A all the time. The argument that Lopez cannot develop without the challenge of major league pitching lacks any kind of supporting evidence. Simply burning through his pre-arbitration years because he’s cheap is short-sighted thinking. The Mariners will be able to pick from a large group of players who can be obtained for the major league minimum, several of them non-guaranteed, who will be able to post numbers in a similar range to what you expect from Lopez next year. With that being the case, he just shouldn’t be considered a real option for the opening day job. If he opens your eyes in spring training, deal with it then. Assuming that he’s going to is setting yourself up for disaster, both next year and in 2011, when he’s hitting the free market a year earlier than he should be.


61 Responses to “Jose Lopez and 2005”

  1. Axl Rose on September 18th, 2004 10:40 am

    There you go again reciting all those statistics and projectional analysis etc. Based on your stats it sounds like the Mariners should go with a proven veteran like Rich Aurilia at SS.

  2. Bela Txadux on September 18th, 2004 9:48 pm

    Dave, blog-maven, shalom! I’ve read your series of comments on Jose Lopez, and after a night to chew it over I’m going to disagree at some length with your assessment of: a) J-Lop’s value as a prospect, and b) where and what he should be doing next year.

    It’s a danger to summarize someone else’s view’s, and with that cavaet here is what I understand you to hold to regarding Lopez. Looked great young, but ‘has problems with his work ethic’ as related to you by inside sources. ‘Marginal plate discipline’ which reinforces the first point, i.e. not well-schooled. ‘Defensively challenged at short,’ and should certainly be converted to another infield position. Brought up to M-L ball due to organizational need but ‘[obviously] overmatched.’ Dead on for his PECOTA’s in ~150 ABs which means: a) he will most probably hit like a replacement player at the major league level if there next year, and b) is in most-comparable group which ranges from Tejada and Beltre, through Aramis-Rod, down to Oquendo and Luis Rivas, where c) you clearly rate J-Lop with the last pair. He’s a glass half-empty, who so far ‘doesn’t get it,’ will reach his arbitration year too early, and push the organization to pay more than he’s worth, or worst of all to commit to a limited player long-term. Therefore he could use some learning time at AAA (‘learn the strike zone, dammit’), while the organization has a real opportunity to sober up and see ‘what he’s really got.’ This assessment is stacked, Dave-buddy, but not unfair, and feel free to rebut it at any length.

    I’ll leave the stat stide to you because not only do I think you’ve stated the _statistical_ facts quite well, I’m also too busy/lazy to go get ’em myself. Here’s what _I_ see on Jose Lopez on the ‘player development’ side, mostly at the major league level. Eighteen-nineteen year old in a foreign land with more money in his pocket than his family has ever earned (big signing bonu$ relative to country) trying to learn a demanding physical profession and be a man. Never overmatched, plenty of power, way-young for every league he’s played in. Major leaguer at the plate: terrrrrific hands and bat speed; can turn around any fastball (lined a hit off of 97mph from Schilling), stays back on the curve (pulled a double down the left field line off of Zito), will take a walk if the pitcher doesn’t throw a strike (I’ve personally followed at least two at bats where he walked on 3-2). What Mr. Lopez does is he puts a wicked lick ON THE FIRST HITTABLE PITCH HE SEES. That’s called being an agressive hitter. Furthermore, while the veteran losers on this club were sleepwalking through the land of the lost, the hottest team in baseball comes to town, Boston—and J-Lop totally raises his game to just about beat them personally the first game. Seattle’s biggest rival of the next few years comes in, Anaheim (Oakland has topped their development cycle and will have a transition this off season), and the son-of-gun cranks several key hits and gives his all.

    Personally, I prefer a good hitter with a +OBP of .100 or better (Chavez) to a good hitter without (Tejada); so does B. Beane which is why he signed the first one rather than the second together with the fact that Chavez is left-handed. Jose Lopez will never lead any league in walks; he’s unlikely to ever challenge for a batting title. There is, however, a world of difference between an aggressive hitter who smokes one-hoppers to the infielders for outs (Winn) who lack discipline and hurt the team, and an aggressive hitter who raps the pellet off the outfield fences for RBI doubles (Tejada) who are cornerstone hitters who carry the team. On one of the remaining home games sit in the stands and watch J-Lop’s ABs and then R. Winn’s hacks, please; it’ll be immediately obvious which is the organization’s best offensive prospect and which (great person, really, and plays HARD every single inning) is the kind of nice-guy journeyman loser that the organization _must_ move if they any intension whatsoever of improving.

    The batting issue with J-Lop is pitch recognition. No, wait . . . it’s NOT. “Swings at strikes, smokes fastballs, waits on breaking pitches”: Jose recognizes pitches just FINE for his experience level. This is what was meant by the comment from a Tacoma coach, cited in this thread, the ‘Lopez has nothing more to learn at this level.’ J-Lop put his skill set against AAA and was on top of the pitching there plenty. Which is why your PECOTAs put him in the set you’ve cited with Beltre and Tejada as a reasonable high end. (Let’s leave A-Rod out of this, as everyone knows his skills are so high that comparisons including him only skew analysis.)

    The issue is pitcher-er recognition. The reason why J-Lop’s most-comparables nearly all have an age 21 major league season at replacement level offensively is that after ~150 major league ABs, the league knows the player but the player doesn’t know the league. Experienced excellent players take 3-4 AB to adjust to a pitcher they haven’t seen; good major league hitters take 3-4 games minimum. Rookies with limited minor league time take 1-2 years to learn the pitchers. Supposing J-Lop is a major league regular next year—which he is 95% certain to be—he will beat up on ‘throwers’ and crush mistakes, but be regularly fooled by pitchers who throw him a cutter or two-seamer when he’s looking dead red, or give him the change-up when he reads slider. Once Lopez learns the _pitchers_ around the American League his skill set screams success.

    So just explain to me please, Dave, how Jose Lopez is going to learn to hit the American League standing at the plate down in Tacoma. A year spent there simply moves his development curve back one year, which means he puts up age-21 numbers in his age-22 year, which puts him out of the most-comparable group, ‘TOLDjahsoothere.’ J-Lop will not be more than a replacement level hitter at age 21, but signing a 25-year-old replacement level player to set back Lopez’s development by a year is, frankly, criminal. Gookie Dawkins won’t win for this team next year, or in ’06, but to win for this team in ’06 Lopez has to learn to hit the league in ’05. This is the price you pay to develop your own talent rather than buy it on the open market.

    Your argument that the organization should send J-Lop down to push back his arbitration year is penny-wise but pound foolish, which is why nobody does it that way. Do you think Lopez won’t know the organization is playing money-games with his career development? Of course he’ll know, and he’ll remember, too, there’s the rub. If one were to suppose that loyalty and team commitment are small things compared to numbers, then sure, let’s play it that way. But even so, the argument fails. Your PECOTAs show that if he comes up next year for his first year or two J-Lop’s numbers will be meagre. This means that his aggregate and best-year numbers by his arbitration year will be appreciably _below his actual value_, assuming as I do that Lopez’s actual value is high. In other words, the Mariners will get to underpay him. Besides which, if J-Lop has a break-out year in year three or four what the organization should do is sign him multi-year, because his value even then will STILL be under his long-term worth. This is exactly what Anaheim has done and Oakland is trying to do. Since your view, as I understand it, is that it’s Jose Lopez y Oquendo we’re speaking of, it is of course perfectly sound to hold him back long enough for the organization to wise up, and move him when he gets a little value rather than commit anything.

    The only logic for sending J-Lop down is his defense, which as big chef terry says above is unacceptable at the level he has played SS so far. The real question about this guy is where does he play? With typical form, the organization can’t decide, so he’ll play SS next year. Which means that the organization needs to sign a first-rate defensive infielder who can back up several positions (Pokey Reese; can’t hit a lick but his glove is good, ergo cheap, relatively). Which isn’t so bad. I agree completely that second base is the best long-term option for J-Lop by far. I think that the most comparable offensive player for J-Lop is just what you show: Tejada. But he is a lesser defensive player, and likely won’t get enough better to be worth the defensive cost at SS. There are few bats like this at second base, though, and this off-season has several good third-base signs (Glaus is my man, but that’s another volume), and the organization has several stop-gaps on hand now. Boone is coming back, and that’s no bad thing. He’s not using the juice anymore (testing,YES!), and accordingly will never turn in a better year again then this one in my view, and his body is very likely going to break down on him. It was going to be hard to slough his option, though, he still plays good defense (or did before this week, yikes!), even now hits better than most other options at 2B including J-Lop age 21, and is popular with the team, the organization and above all with the market.

    What to do about the defensive issue?? J-Lop lives in Venezuela; play him in winter ball at 2B after this conversation. “Don’t screw up, and we are committed to you as an infielder on our major league team; whether you stay at SS in two years depends on how hard you work [light a fire under him], and whether you grow any more [‘ego out’ in case he just doesn’t cut it at SS as is most likely].” He’s the opening day SS, but has to earn ‘full time’ status from his new manager (please! Melvin manages like they’re his peers which they nearly are, that’s the problem, no accountability). After Boone’s final year next year, slide J-Lop over at the major league level.

    [Plenty] ‘Nuff said.

    -Bela Txadux-

  3. Dave on September 19th, 2004 4:53 pm


    That’s a good post with a lot of points, so if I miss one, feel free to let me know. I don’t have time for a full response right now, so here’s a short one instead.

    1. Why are team’s obligated to call up a player once he has reached the point of replacement level major leaguer status without “playing money games”? I realize the Devil Rays and the Pirates under Cam Bonifay did it this way, but why should we follow suit? There is certainly no rule in baseball, written or unwritten, that demands that a player be placed on the major league roster after moderate success in the upper minors. There are plenty of legitimate reasons that Lopez should spend 2005 in Triple-A beyond the financial aspects. This is not optioning Joel Pineiro down because we don’t think we’ll contend next year and want to push his free agency back. Lopez has no right to expect to begin 2005 in the majors after a decent (but not spectacular) performance in Tacoma and a poor showing in Seattle. Lopez is, at this point in time, a bad major league player. Bad major league players don’t get to complain about being treated unfairly when they are optioned to Triple-A.

    2. Your theory about learning to hit pitchers is interesting, and one that is popular among certain circles, but also totally unsubstantiated. In fact, I would suggest that the available information we have suggests that this theory is incorrect. Rookie pitchers have a much harder time adjusting to major league hitting than vice versa, which is contrary to the belief that it takes a hitter longer to “learn the pitchers”, giving the advantage to the pitcher. I believe that the struggles most hitters face when they reach the majors have less to do with “learning the pitchers” and more to do with adjusting their approach at the plate. The uber-aggressive style of hitting that Lopez, and most players his age, favor in the minor leagues simply does not work for 99 percent of players. I believe the struggles are directly related to an adjustment in which pitches to swing at, rather than studying pitchers. If you’d like to offer some evidence to support your theory, I’d love to hear it. However, the players who come up and tend to struggle through an entire season are often ones who are called up based on projection of future performance rather than rewarding for domination in Triple-A. I would imagine, and I can’t substantiate this without a decent amount of research that I won’t have time to do until about December, that players who make their debuts at ages 23-24 perform significantly better early in their careers than those who debut from 20-22. The correlation established between MLE’s (minor league equivalencies) and major league statistics support this belief. I don’t agree with the point that keeping Lopez in Triple-A is simply delaying an inevitable period of struggle that will come no matter when he is promoted. I believe, and this is obviously the main point of disagreement between us, that most of that portion of poor production can be avoided by allowing Lopez to further develop in Triple-A.

    I believe the success of David Wright is a prime example of further development in the minors. After last season and in spring training, his abundant talent and future stardom was obvious, but rather than hand him the third base job in spring training, the Mets sent him to Double-A. He destroyed the pitching there, so they moved him to Triple-A. He destroyed the pitching there. Then he got the call to the majors, and has responded with a .304/.342/.547 line in his first 214 at-bats. Wright isn’t a better talent now than he was 5 months ago. However, the Mets allowed him to earn his way to Shea, rather than rewarding his potential, and they skipped right ahead to the productive portion of his career, all while saving enough service time to gain an extra year of service from him during his age 27 season.

    3. Zone Rating and Range Factor are worthless. I see people quoting them pretty often in the comments, so I’m throwing this in here. They’re useless. Give up on ZR and RF. Not worth the bandwidth they’re using to publish.

    4. I realize that most of you have only read what I’ve written about Lopez here on USSM, so I’ll take the fault for not putting more of my optimistic prose about him here. I’ve written, and said, a ton of good things about Lopez’s potential and future prospects. So, let me make this clear:

    I think Jose Lopez is a good prospect. I argued for him to get some consideration for BP’s Top 50 prospects list after last season, when there was little statistical evidence to support that kind of ranking. His potential is obvious, and I’ve commented on it many times. But I also believe that the contingent of diehard Lopez supporters who fill my inbox everytime I bring his name up don’t realize just how often this style of prospect flops. There’s very little difference between Lopez now and the 2001 Wilson Betemit or 2003 Brandon Phillips. Tejada is the upside, but there is only one Miguel Tejada in the majors. The likelyhood of him fulfilling his potential isn’t the sure-fire home run that the Lopez Fan Club would have you believe. That’s the point I’ve been trying to drive home, and apparently have done so to the point where I’m now viewed as a Lopez-hater. Really, I like Lopez, and I want him to succeed. I just hope people have realistic expectations for a 20-year-old who is a long ways from helping a major league team win.

    Anyways, hopefully this answers a few of your questions. If I missed any major points, point them out, and I’ll respond later this week when I have more time.

  4. stan on September 19th, 2004 10:09 pm

    An interesting discussion. I know I have already weighed in with my opinion on this thread (see #46), but it does raise an interesting issue of what is the optimum time to bring a prospect from the minor leagues. I don’t have the record book in front of me but I think Edgar came up late (age 27 or thereabouts) and from what I recall it took him a few years to develop into the Edgar we all know and love. I guess we will never know if calling him up when he was 24 or so would have given him time to get adjusted to the major leagues sooner and therefore given him better production when he was 27. There are some players who don’t seem to need the adjustment period (the kid in Florida Miguel Cabrerra comes to mind though I don’t follow the National League enough to know if he is doing as well this year), but it seems to me most players do struggle a bit when they reach the majors or soon thereafter. Sophmore slumps happen to older rookies as well as kids. My judgment is still the same as in my earlier post; Lopez should stay in 2005. If he becomes overmatched at the plate next year (say the way Olivo appears to be right now) then send him down; otherwise, I would like the Mariners to have the patience to see how he will develop.

  5. DMZ on September 19th, 2004 10:36 pm

    Stan — I’m sorry, but you’re totally wrong. Edgar came up at 24 in 1987 , he didn’t get more than 200 at-bats until he was full-time at 27 in 1990, when he hit .300/.397/.433, which is the Edgar we all know and love. In the meantime, he raked PCL hitting for years while the Mariners waffled on his future. In those mid-years of 1987-1989–
    1987: Edgar hit .329 in Calgary, 31 doubles, 10 HR, 82 BB, 47 K
    1988: .363 with 19 doubles, 8 HR, 66 BB, 40K … in 331 AB
    1989: .345 with 11 doubles, 3 HR, 22 BB, 13K … in 113 AB

    Maybe Edgar should have been in AAA for 1987, but at 24 he showed that he belonged in the majors. Edgar isn’t a good comp for Jose Lopez here.

  6. Paul Weaver on September 19th, 2004 10:58 pm

    You see, there was no room for Edgar because we had perennial superstar Jim Presley at the hot corner.

  7. eponymous coward on September 19th, 2004 11:48 pm

    Yeah, I actally wrote a column for the local SABR publication in 1988 basically asking “WTF is Edgar doing in Calgary when we have almost no-one with a good OBP”?

    I’ll also repeat what I said before- I don’t see why Lopez can’t have Bloomquist’s job of being a replacement-level utility IF on the roster, if we want to keep him in the majors but don’t think he’s quite ready for everyday play. Lots of players have an initial year in the majors where they don’t play full-time (A-Rod and Edgar, to name two from the Mariners), and it doesn’t kill their subsequent careers (although in Edgar’s case he should have gotten everyday playing time long before 1989).

    I see the argument about to his age 27 year as specious- the Mariners have some degree of control whether or not he’ll be signed for that year, and for a team as insanely profitable as the Mariners to not try to buy out any of his FA years before he qualifies for free agency probably means he’s not worth it, whether by trying to cash in above his head ala A-Rod or being a flop. This isn’t the Oakland A’s we’re dealing with here, folks, where it’s Tejada OR Chavez, not both.

    Now, there’s the argument that if he’s not going to play SS full-time, he should have a full year at a defensive position, which would explain going back to Tacoma. There’s some logic to that. But I also don’t see why carrying Lopez on your roster instead of Bloomquist or even a replacement-level SS might not work out either- he’s a LOT more likely to do something interesting, like take another step forward given time in the lineup, and so on.

  8. Bela Txadux on September 20th, 2004 5:00 am

    So Dave, to follow-on (and thanks for the ‘brief’ reply just above):

    I definitely _don’t_ think that Lopez should be ‘rewarded’ for anything, or appear to be ‘punished’ either; both are terrible ideas likely to toy dangerously with his attitude (or anyone else’s), and frankly he hasn’t done enough to deserve to be rewarded, and it would be ridiculous (and a bad sign) if he sulked no matter where he landed. I certainly hope that nothing has been promised to Lopez regarding next year, since such promises are only create inappropriate expectations: _nothing_ is promised, or should be, and any player who thinks he’s owed something is going to get himself in trouble no matter what anyone intends. There are only two, rational criteria which figure into where he should play next year, those being: a) where he will develop _best_ as a player, and b) how this can be presented to him to maximize his sense of the organization’s committment. I’m quite certain that we both agree on these principals. A corrollary to those principles is that he should be playing nearly full time no matter where he is, although he can play at more than one position on different days if he can handle it mentally and physically; sitting on the major league bench is worse than useless—he must play.

    Now reading my post, I suspect that one comes away with the impression that I believe that Lopez _should_ be in Seattle; to clarify, I’m by no means convinced that he should, and it is certainly exceedingly unfortunate that he didn’t get the full year in AAA this year. Your instance of D. Wright is a good one; good prospects sent down specifically to Learn & Earn tear up the obstacles iin their path and are more likely to hit the major leagues on a mission, and ideally this is what is done with everyone. The Mariners: a) cannot seem to decide what posiition they want Lopez to play, and b) have no one to play _his_ present position at the major league level where c) any offseason sign good enough to help the team blocks his path (if he stays at SS). Abstract contexts about ideal development paths aside, THIS is the actual context in which decisions must be made, and contexts force your hand. If the Mariners send him to AAA next year, it must be for a specific reason; learn 2B, ‘walk more’ (he won’t, ’cause he’s having enough success with what he does that it will be very difficult mentally to abandon it until he must), ‘work a bette pitch to hit (I’m unconvinced that he is _not_ doing this NOW, but surely any time spent improving would only be in his interest just like any other player). He would certainly be a better hitter oveall if he spent half or all of next year in AAA simply because he would see more pitches.

    My argument regarding ‘hitting the league’ I cannot back up with any statistic, and I won’t try. It’s a theory, but there is a catch, Dave: Lopez is in a very atypical most-comparable set relative to _most other players_ because aggressive hitters who succeed go against the numbers, yes, certainly. I’m well aware that many hitters of this type fail totally, a la Phillips, and I’m sure that if you did a study you would find that most hitters of this type fail. Going to the comment early in this thread, however, 12 of the most-comparable for Lopez ALL had superior careers: Tejada is the best example, but he isn’t the _only_ example. And that matches my (limited, lay, and unstatistical) observation of Lopez at the major league level now. You say that ‘he hasn’t done anything’ there, and certainly his aggregate numbers aren’t great; ask Paul Molitor or your choice of a good major league hitting coach and then tell me what they say; I’m betting they’ll say he’s shown a lot. I would like to hear you identify from your personal observation or inside advice what it is in getting pitches that J-Lop _doesn’t_ do well. Sure, he could do everything better: is there a hole? If so, there’s something to justify in a straightforward way sending him down. Part of my (perhaps excessively high-end) assessment is that I’m not hearing there is a major hole; he just needs to see more pitches OF MAJOR LEAGUE CALIBER where ever he is. My concern in sending him down to hit is just that he _isn’t_ Dave Wright, he doesn’t take as many pitches, and I’m not sure that wailing on AAAA level offering will truly improve _Lopez’s_ game as much as it would a more typical player, for whom your argument—send him down to ‘sharpen up’—is absolutely the best way to go, I definitely agree.

    My main concern with Lopez is not his approach, as not only do I think he’s having more than decent success with it but is also unlikely to change it significantly. My concern is simply his age: 20-21 is very young to be handed a pressurized, public job where you must produce. I think he can handle it based on his performance against Boston and Oakland (oh tiny sample forgive me!), but I would be far happier myself if he were sent down a la Wright to get a running start.

    —But this won’t happen, because I feel sure that the M’s will promote him. This skewed my presentation in the first post somewhat from ‘will/should he be up’ to ‘since he will be up can he develop there.’ I’m feel sure that he can, but I’m not voting for that as the best course, no, I’ll grant you that.

    But concerns about his future arbitration status should absolutely be kept out of the decision. That’s what got me frothing I guess.

    I’m interested to hear your views, though Dave, because you have the dope others don’t and you’ll argue from the facts you can present. And I learn from that, so.

    -Bela Txadux_

  9. big chef terry on September 20th, 2004 10:09 am

    I love the comment from Dave about range factor and zone rating as worthless and not to use them. This from a “sabremetrician”. So ok.

    Lopez breaks late on most groundballs. He takes bad angles to most balls. He’s late to second for double plays on groundballs to the right side. I’m sure that doesn’t show up in range factor.

    Jamey Moyer can’t win in the major leagues any more because he can’t throw double plays (Boone could probably play better shortstop and he’s done at second) and all the little lame flyballs he induces turn into doubles and triples.

    Ozzie Smith and Garry Templeton got to lots of balls at the age of 20 that this kid can’t and never will. Playing in triple A is not going to improve that. Maybe he’s a third baseman…but he’s not as good as David Bell there.

  10. stan on September 20th, 2004 10:33 am

    Thanks DMZ for the Edgar info. I was living out here in the 80’s but for various and sundry reasons I did not become a Mariner fan until 2000. I know I was watching the team on tv in the mid to late 80’s, but I did not follow them in any great detail. I really don’t remember Edgar being on a minor league shuttle, though I am sure you are correct that he was.

    Since I am living in Tacoma, sending Lopez to Triple A in 2005 would not be the worst thing for me. I enjoyed seeing him this year; Bucky, A.J. Zapp, Justin Leone and Lopez all showed the ability to drive a baseball. Of that group I was most impressed by Lopez because of his age and also I don’t think he swung and missed as many pitches as the other guys.

    One comment I do disagree with is the idea of keeping Lopez in the majors but having him in a utility role. That might be ok if he was used the way Lou used McLemore, but I don’t see him having Mac’s defensive ability. This year in Tacoma he was used mainly at third and short. It was curious to me that if he was the shortstop of the future why he did not play more shortstop. What I saw of him at short was a guy who was not able to cut off a groundball up the middle say the way Carlos Guillen could or even the way Ramon Santiago can.

    It seems to me his limited range will get him in trouble as a second baseman should the Mariners put him there. A second baseman has as much territory to cover as a shortstop, and even more when the 1st baseman is holding a runner. Unless the Mariners get J.T. Snow to play first ( and by the way kudos to Bavasi for trying to get him for Olerud and brickbats to Bavasi for trying to sign Ellis Burks this past winter) I don’t see Lopez as a second baseman.

    I did get a bit of a laugh out of the notion (not seriously made by Bella) that perhaps Lopez should be sent to Tacoma to learn how to get more walks. I would like to see that lead off hitter in Seattle down here for the same reason. For sure if that happens I will get season tickets to the Rainiers.

  11. Dave on September 20th, 2004 8:17 pm


    I disagree that service time shouldn’t play any role in the decision. I agree that it shouldn’t be the determining factor, but to not give it any weight at all, to me, is foolish.

    I’m not sure where the feeling that the organization doesn’t know where they want Lopez to play from. From everyone I’ve talked to (and it just about covers the spectrum of the whole player development staff), one person thinks Lopez can play shortstop for more than a few years, and everyone expects him to end up at either second or third. You’re correct that there isn’t a consensus on which of those two positions he’ll end up at, but I don’t believe the team is concerned with teaching him to play those positions. Moves down the defensive spectrum aren’t that difficult. Miguel Cabrera played a capable major league outfield last year after spending exactly one day in his life in the outfield before his major league debut.

    Regarding Lopez’s offense and what he’s shown to date, I don’t think we really disagree that his talent has been on display, and I have no doubt that the M’s have seen enough flashes of potential to continue in their beliefs that he’s going to be an outstanding hitter. However, there’s a huge difference between talent and value called consistency, something Lopez needs immense growth in. At this point, perhaps 1 in 10 of his at-bats are major league quality. The other 9, he’s chasing the letter high fastball (his big weakness right now), refusing to lay off the fringe pitches, or hitting the first strike he sees, regardless of whether it’s a good pitch to hit. This makes him one of the easiest outs in baseball and pitchers have exploited it. It’s clear that his plan at the plate needs serious work. You don’t have to walk to be a great hitter, but you cannot consistently get yourself out. Right now, Jose Lopez is getting himself out far too often with a poor approach to hitting. That needs to change.

    This issue is the big one that divides the Lopez-As-Next-Tejada crowd from me. I don’t believe that the assumption that Lopez is absolutely going to adjust his approach and learn to usually swing at hitters pitches (even if he’s not walking, Tejada doesn’t get himself out frequently anymore) is one that we can make with even strong certainty. Lopez’s current skillset makes him a bad player. With some moves forward, he could be a great player. But the “12 best comparisons all had great careers” statement is just incorrect. Those comparisons are selective samplings of guys who did make it, completely overlooking the number of players who didn’t. I don’t mean to sound arrogant here, but I’m not sure I know how to phrase this without being accused of it, so please try and take this statement in the spirit I’m offering it; most of the Mariner fans who are convinced that Lopez is going to make it don’t have the necessary perspective of following the entirity of minor league baseball to realize just how often players with this skillset fail to develop. I’ve spent the better part of the last five years attempting to cover all of minor league baseball, and Jose Lopez isn’t as unique as Mariner fans want to believe. Before Lopez, we had Wilson Betemit, Brandon Phillips, Angel Berroa, Antonio Perez, Gookie Dawkins, and Alex Gonzalez (Marlins version). And those are just the recent cases. Lopez does some things better than some of those, some things worse. None of these failures (or works in progress, as Phillips still has a solid future, I believe) prove that Lopez is going to fail. But we can’t pick 12 major leaguers with similar callup ages and say “see, look, everyone like Lopez develops”. It just isn’t true.

    With the exception of 2002 in the California League, Jose Lopez has never dominated his competition. For all the flashes of greatness he showed in Tacoma this year (and no doubt, his numbers in Triple-A for a 20-year-old are very good), he posted a .335 on base percentage. Of the Tacaoma Rainiers that had at least 100 at-bats, Lopez’s value with the bat was only eighth best, and wasn’t even close to the guys who dominated the PCL pitching. Certainly, his age gives him all kinds of leeway to where we wouldn’t expect him to be the best player in the league, and he showed obvious potential for future growth. But I’m not ready to discuss how dominating a league may stunt his growth until he actually does dominate a league.

    Let’s be honest. Jose Lopez is in the majors today because of what he might be, not because of what he is. I don’t agree with the philosophy that players need to be rewarded for what they could become, regardless of whether Dan Rohn thinks that Lopez has nothing more to learn in Tacoma. If Rohn’s right, that will be evident pretty quickly next spring, when Lopez is hitting .350/.420/.600 to start the season, and the M’s should have no problem promoting him and ripping up his bus ticket back to Tacoma.

    But that’s not the Jose Lopez we have in the majors right now. The one we have is a pretty easy out, the same relatively easy out that he was in Tacoma. It might not be one of the five tools, but the approach that Lopez currently employs at the plate is a far cry from the one that other successful hackers use. Until he goes from swing-at-anything to swing-at-any-good-pitch, he’s not going to live up to his talent. And I believe that adjustment can be made in Tacoma without an edict to “walk more” or trying to change him into a patient hitter.

    I guess my basic point is that I see two solid reasons for him to start next year in Tacoma (need for more consistency at the plate and service time) and none for starting him in Seattle (to me, the “Tampa Bay does it and keeps their players happy” argument is lame at best). I just don’t understand the overall consensus that Lopez should even be considered an option heading into spring training next year (not saying you’re advocating it, Bela, but a lot of people do). Let him force his way on the roster. Make him earn it.