Position Roundtables: Starting Second Baseman

Dave · February 7, 2006 at 7:39 am · Filed Under 2006 Position Roundtables, Mariners 

Starting Second Baseman: Jose Lopez


Since Dave has taken the initiative on the first few, I figured I’d start us off for number three, which is, fittingly, the second base roundtable.

Franz Kafka’s close friend Max Brod once asked the author whether, with his seemingly bleak literary worldview, he saw any cause for hope. The scribe gave a memorable reply: “Oh, plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope–but not for us.”

The application to Mariner fandom should be apparent. There’s a difference, though. In our world, hope manifests itself in promising young players like this year’s projected starting second baseman, Jose Lopez. In Kafka’s world, the best you could expect was to turn into an insect.

What to expect from Lopez? More, in three senses. More than we expected from him last year, more than the team received from the second base slot, and more than many fans seem to believe. We’ve talked about this before, doing some player comparisons that demonstrate the different standards people get attached to.

To be sure, there are worries. Lopez doesn’t get on base enough. There are questions about his defense. But he’s a young middle infielder with pop in his bat, PECOTA likes him a lot, and he can be an inexpensive building block for years to come.

Plus, he doesn’t turn 23 until November. There may not have been hope for Franz Kafka. But there is for Jose Lopez, and by extension, the hometown nine.


Can you believe Jose Lopez just turned 22 years old? It feels like I’ve been writing about him for a decade. In trying to kick off this roundtable, I stared at my email for a day trying to figure out exactly what part of his game I haven’t written about in ridiculous depth.

The answer? His defense at second base. When he was coming through the ranks as a shortstop, I wrote several articles suggesting his skills were more suited for second base, and that I was never that impressed with his long term prospects of staying at shortstop. Most of the public comments I’ve made about his defense were negative in nature and regarded his ability to play major league defense at SS. But, since his converstion to second base, I haven’t really written much about his glovework. So, here you go.

Jose Lopez, right now, is a solid defensive second baseman, and he has the skills to be well above average going forward. His footwork is still not the best and he doesn’t have the best hands around, but his lateral range is significantly better than most of his peers at second base. He also has a cannon arm, which matters less than it would at short, but is still an asset, especially on balls hit up the middle.

Due to the small samples, we don’t have reliable statistical information on his defense, though if you’re curious, the advanced metrics rank him somewhere from average to third best in baseball. You can’t find a defensive metric that thinks he played poorly in ’05 at second base. Again, massive small sample size caveats apply, and I’d give those numbers very little weight in the grand scheme of things, but I’m just throwing it out there.

So, does all this matter? I mean, really, how important can second base defense be, anyways?

More important than you’d think. Bret Boone, in half a season, cost the Mariners about 20 runs with his glove last year. Seriously, this is one of those times where every defensive metric out there is in agreement. Boone was awful. Smith’s ZR had him at -18, RANGE had him at -24, Dial’s ZR had him at -33, PMR had him at -36. All of those are prorated to a full season, by the way. But at the rate Boone was letting balls roll past him, he would have cost the M’s something like 20-30 runs over the course of the year just with his defense.

If we accept that Jose Lopez is an average defender, the M’s are going to get a significant bump in how well they turn groundballs into outs next year. If PMR is right and Lopez is well above average, the M’s could have one of the best defensive infields in the game. It’s clear that, either way, replacing the statue of Bret Boone and replacing him with an actual live body is going to have a positive impact.

And that’s not even discussing the breakout potentail his bat has, which we’ve noted many times. Lopez, at his worst, will still be better than Boone was last year, and if he takes a leap forward like is clearly possible for a player for his age and skillset, it could be a massive improvement. Just like with the catcher spot, the M’s have serious upgrade potential here, and almost no chance to be as bad as they were. And, to top it off, Lopez will cost 3.5 percent of what Boone made last year.


Is this the year we finally get to see real production out of Jose Lopez? My Magic 8-Ball says, “Signs point to yes.” The thing I like best about Lopez are the combination of his age and that he has 854 at-bats–nearly two seasons’ worth–above AA. Now, I know what you’re saying… “But Jason, in 398 major league at-bats he’s hit a measly .239 with no walks and just seven homers.”

I can’t help you with the walks, unfortunately, and he might never draw even 50 in a single season in the majors. However, of his 95 major league hits, a full 39 of them — that’s 41% — have gone for extra bases. That’s power for the position, folks, especially given his age.

If the Magic 8-Ball could give more than yes or no answers, it’d tell you to look for a .280/.330/.450 from Lopez next season along with the solid defense Dave mentions above.


I don’t have anything particularly to add to this, except that I really like Lopez, and he’s got a fair shot at being a huge contributor to the team for a long time. I hope they plunk him down at second and work with him. Fortunately for him, it’s not as if there’s a replacement pushing him for playing time.


I do worry about Hargrove getting attached to “veteran leader and bat-control artist” Fernando Vina during spring training, leading to Lopez starting the year in Tacoma again.


That’s a legitimate concern. Lopez has a questionable work ethic, no doubt, and he has a tendancy to get on a coaches bad side fairly quickly. Grover’s the kind of coach who values hustle over talent, and since Jose hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in his major league trials, he can’t afford to dog it in spring training. Let’s hope he shows up motivated enough to keep Grover from going with another plucky white guy.


30 Responses to “Position Roundtables: Starting Second Baseman”

  1. zzyzx on February 7th, 2006 8:18 am

    I just want to say that I really appreciate this post. I’m still recovering from Sunday’s loss and any hope for some optimism about Seattle sports is a good thing today.

  2. Russ on February 7th, 2006 8:23 am

    Max Brod and baseball on one page. Even knowing the literary breadth of knowledge here, this is astounding.

    Nice write up, 8 days until Pitchers/Catchers report.

  3. mln on February 7th, 2006 8:24 am

    Oh good, an analysis of the Mariners’ starting second baseman Willie … Jose Lopez!?


  4. Adam S on February 7th, 2006 8:29 am

    We can only hope that all the talk about “second base competition” is just trying to motivate Lopez and/or improve his work ethic. A 22-year old with a lifetime .240 average shouldn’t just be handed a starting job but really Lopez vs. Bloomquist vs. Vina isn’t really a competition, except to see who comes in second.

    Can you quantify “huge upgrade potential”? In terms of Wins, how much better could we expect the Mariners to be here than in 2005 — 2 on defense and 2 on offense? Could it be 3 or 4 wins with the bat given how bad Boone was?

  5. eponymous coward on February 7th, 2006 8:47 am

    Well, I’ll put it this way- go look at Miguel Tejada and Aramis Ramirez for the sort of upside we’re talking about.

    The guy I worry about getting the second base job in an unwarranted fashion is none other than Gritty Willie, as Bavasi promised him a shot at starting as part of the contract, and it’s happened twice before. Vina’s pretty much toast or bench fodder at this point in his career, but Willie is young enough (28) to give an illusion that “hey, were still going young compared to Bret”, ignoring the fact that Bret Boone’s festering corpse STILL outhit Willie last year. My nightmares usually involve Willie B being our starting 2B or CF…

  6. msb on February 7th, 2006 9:05 am

    since Jose hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in his major league trials, he can’t afford to dog it in spring training. Let’s hope he shows up motivated enough to keep Grover from going with another plucky white guy.

    but with a really meticulous beard…. (btw, I see where Girardi’s first move as Marlin’s manager was to outlaw facial hair)

    Did Lopez play winter ball this year? FWIW, Jim Street handled the middle infielders position update for mlb.com … he (of course) focuses more on Willie B.

  7. crashley on February 7th, 2006 9:15 am

    Excellent write-up. Last year, my biggest motivation for going to games was watching the King pitch. This year, in addition to marveling at his Majesty, it will be great watching Betty field everything within a mile of him and Lopez (and perhaps a bionic version of Doyle) rip doubles left and right. All is not lost, baseball fans.

    The true question, though, is what would be tattooed on WFB’s back in the Penal Colony

  8. Grizz on February 7th, 2006 9:19 am

    “Bad” Jose Lopez: 247/282/379, 661 OPS in 203 PA

    “Good” Willie Bloomquist: 257/289/333, 622 OPS in 267 PA

    Lopez had almost as many doubles in the last month of the season (11) as Bloomquist had all year (15). PECOTA projects solid improvement for Lopez across the board, but more of the same from Bloomquist.

    As long as Lopez realizes his real value with the bat comes from hitting gap to gap and posting a decent batting average with lots of doubles, not from pulling everything in a home run or bust approach, he should not have to worry about Bloomquist.

  9. Smegmalicious on February 7th, 2006 11:05 am

    I don’t think anyone could seriously consider having Bloomquist be a starter on a team you want to contend.

  10. Dave on February 7th, 2006 11:15 am

    Can you quantify “huge upgrade potential”? In terms of Wins, how much better could we expect the Mariners to be here than in 2005 — 2 on defense and 2 on offense? Could it be 3 or 4 wins with the bat given how bad Boone was?

    If Lopez hits .280/.330/.460 and gets 500 plate appearances, which is a definite possibility (that’s essentially his 75th percentile PECOTA projection), he’d be worth about 30 runs over replacement with his bat. The M’s second baseman, last year, were worth about 6 runs over replacement with their bats, so you’re talking about a 20-25 run upgrade offensively.

    Defensively, even if Lopez is just average defensively, you’re talking a 15 run upgrade, and probably closer to 25 runs if he’s a bit better than average with the glove, which I think he is at second base.

    Lopez has a chance to be something like a 40-50 run improvement over what the M’s ran out there last year. When I say huge upgrade potential, I’m talking between 4-5 wins, just from that spot alone. It’s still potential, and there are a ton of scenarios where that improvement doesn’t come to pass, but it’s within reason to recognize the possbility that Lopez is one of the better second baseman in the AL next year. Considering Boone was the worst starting second baseman in baseball last year, and perhaps the worst starting player period, that’s a massive upgrade.

  11. T-dawg on February 7th, 2006 11:22 am

    Fernando Vina is a plucky white guy? i only vaguely recall him, but the name doesn’t exactly speak of the typical “plucky white guy” nomenclature.

    I do love what I’m reading from you guys on Lopez… although perhaps not the whole song, he is that great catchy line from the killers…. “It’s not confidential, I’ve got potential”

  12. msb on February 7th, 2006 11:27 am

    #11–I think Dave meant Willie, but Fernando is a plucky little white guy from Sacramento…

  13. Celadus on February 7th, 2006 11:40 am

    As a baseline for comparison, has anybody done a cross fielding-measure study of all time best fielding second basemen such as Bill Mazeroski? It would be interesting to have some idea of what the gold standard for second basemen is (+ adjusted for era and team would be nice).

  14. Dave on February 7th, 2006 11:50 am

    All of the good defensive metrics we have now are based on play-by-play data, which isn’t available for years much earlier than the late 90s. Given the data we have, we really don’t have a good way to quantify guys like Mazeroski’s defensive value.

  15. little joey on February 7th, 2006 11:50 am

    It’s funny to look back and think that Lopez earned his first press with regard to his glove. When he started at Everett, he wasn’t hitting much, though he was only 17. I scoffed at the Herald when he was lauded as a future star for his shortstop defense. A few years ago, when Rob Neyer was freely available, it seemed plausible that Jason Giambi might play shortstop, if only for his on base percentage.

    Of course we all realized by the time he made it to Inland Empire that Lopez could hit. He should be special.

  16. eponymous coward on February 7th, 2006 11:55 am

    As long as Lopez realizes his real value with the bat comes from hitting gap to gap and posting a decent batting average with lots of doubles, not from pulling everything in a home run or bust approach, he should not have to worry about Bloomquist.

    i’m not really convinced that Safeco is as much of a death to righties as it seems. Bret Boone did fine here, so did Edgar, so has Richie Sexson. Granted, they weren’t extreme pull hitters, but it seems to me Lopez has a pretty high ceiling and may at some point be a middle of the order hitter like Tejada. (That being said…might take a while and Dave’s right, there are plenty of scenarios where this doesn’t happen in 2006).

  17. Dave on February 7th, 2006 11:59 am

    Certainly, some RH hitters can succeed at Safeco, but I’m not sure that there’s any real doubt about just how brutal the left-center area is on hitters. The park factors bear this out. The home run factor for Safeco is something like 82 to left field and 121 to right field. Guys like Edgar, Boone, and Sexson have enough RF power to not be destroyed by Safeco, but that doesn’t diminish the effect it has on hitters whose main source of power is the left-center field gap.

  18. rick on February 7th, 2006 12:01 pm

    How does Lopez compare, Pecota wise, with Richie Weeks? Everyone expects Richie will be a superstar, and Lopez is actually a year younger.

  19. Dave on February 7th, 2006 12:17 pm

    It likes Rickie Weeks quite a bit more than Lopez. So do I. Weeks is an exceptional talent. PECOTA expects Weeks to hover around a .300 EqA for the next 5 years, with Lopez closer to .270.

    Basically, Weeks bat can play regularly anywhere, where Lopez’s would be a borderline at first base or left field. But Lopez has a better shot at sticking at second base than Weeks does.

  20. Steve Nelson on February 7th, 2006 1:25 pm

    #16: I remember looking at Edgar’s career offensive numbers, and concluding that he took at least a .050 OPS hit when the team moved to Safeco. It’s a big enough impact that it could be what keeps him out of the Hall of Fame.

  21. metz123 on February 7th, 2006 2:21 pm

    I have a bad feeling that Lopez is going to be the “official Grover scapegoat” when the team gets off to its expected slow start. Unless Jose breaks out of the gate hot and hits mid may with a BA over .270 he’s going to get shuttled down to Tacoma.

    Remember that Betencourt is the designated “defensive whiz” of the infield and that gives him “protection” if his bat doesn’t start off hot. Lopez has no such designation by the powers at be.

    I’m really concerned that we’re going to yank Jose around so much that he’ll be the classic “change of scenery” player that doesn’t get a career going until he ends up on a different team. I see a career path like Ibanez.

  22. Dave on February 7th, 2006 2:25 pm

    Except that Ibanez sucked until he was about 28, didn’t have a good minor league resume, and his career revival in Kansas City was a historical fluke. They aren’t comparable players at all.

  23. Grizz on February 7th, 2006 2:43 pm

    The M’s management cited Lopez’s pull happy approach as the reason for his abrupt demotion last July (which in turn made Bloomquist the everyday 2B). Lopez earned praise upon his return for hitting (relatively) more to all fields. If Lopez disregards the coaches’ instructions and reverts to pulling everything, Hargrove’s patience with him will expire quickly.

  24. leetinsleyfanclub on February 7th, 2006 4:33 pm

    I don’t know what to make of Lopez. He has been impressive at times when he is not trying to pull everything. That’s the key for him…hitting to all fields. If he does that, he has great potential as a gap hitter. He could hit 40 doubles a year. Despite that, I don’t see a star in the making. I imagine him as a .275 hitter with 15-20 home runs once he matures a bit more. I just want to see him given an extended opportunity to play every day as long as his glove is solid, which it should be. Even if he initially struggles with the bat, they need to just let him play through it and he will eventually figure it out. As has been pointed out, even if he doesn’t hit well he will be an upgrade over what was at second last year.

  25. chrisisasavage on February 7th, 2006 4:38 pm

    Lopez will die at Safeco if he’s all pull. MLB.com has hit charts, and it’s obvious, the good RH hitters at safeco hit the ball to the opposite field and up the middle a lot more than some of those who were killed by it’s effects. That’s part of why I’m expecting Beltre to bounce back some. His balls in play did land to all fields. He had a lot of home runs almost clear too, from the looks of his hit charts (admittedly from memory, not looking at them). Boone, Edgar, Sexson, Ichiro, etc hit the ball all over the place. If Lopez turns “all pull”, he’ll be probably another righty victim of Safecos left field fences, at least I suspect so.

  26. eponymous coward on February 7th, 2006 6:42 pm

    Thus my comment of “extreme pull hitters”. 😉

  27. Evan on February 8th, 2006 9:59 am

    Ichiro’s not right-handed, so his spray chart isn’t really that helpful.

  28. chrisisasavage on February 8th, 2006 1:13 pm

    Sorry, you’re correct. And he’s not a power hitter, so I think (from assumption of course) that could matter less even if he were. It was interesting. Look at someone like Paul Konerko. It’s very obvious from those charts his offense would take a massive hit at Safeco. It’s also interesting to look at the elite hitters (Pujols, A-Rod, Vlad, etc), who tend to hit the ball far, to all fields. Basically those guys hit the ball hard and far, all over the place. To me it shows how great those guys are as well as why we shouldnt be as afraid of a truely elite RH slugger at safeco, at least I think.

    I did not a real analysis, just Cherry picked players and compared. I cant remember what I saw for Cirillo and Speizio, but I think they they pulled to LF a lot. Still interesting.

  29. Baseline on February 9th, 2006 9:43 am

    I’ve picked Lopez to be a breakout Mariner this season, he has all the tools. It’s just about putting them together and putting together a good year. With him and YuBet, I think the middle infield is one of the better ones in the AL West among other things.

  30. InSpo on February 11th, 2006 12:27 pm

    I really don’t think that we have enough info to make a conclusion about Yu-bet. Of all the Young players, a-side from Felix, I think he will be the best player.

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