Jose Lopez, best second baseman in baseball

DMZ · May 21, 2006 at 5:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

No kidding: right now, he’s up there offensively with Chase Utley and some other scrubs (Jose Vidro? Please). He’s hitting a ridiculous .304/.330/.511 as I type this. That’s like his 2004-5 PCL numbers, no difficulty adjustment or anything. And we’ve seen him play good defense, as well, which we hadn’t seen consistently from the position since what, Boone 03?

That’s an All-Star performance. It’s helped by his ridiculous 34-RBI total (as a #2 hitter!). People love the RBI.

I don’t expect him to continue this well for the rest of the season, though I do still think he’s going to be a good player.

There are some weird ticks in his line so far (check out his stats over at The Hardball Times): he’s hitting a lot of grounders, which is odd and he’s getting a lot of home runs off his fly balls. He’s never been a good walk guy, but he’s down from his career minor league percentages by a ways.

Now, that in itself isn’t unusual. A lot of players see their walk numbers drop. They’re challenged more often by better pitchers, and so on. But what you also see in the majors is power gets junk. Someone hitting for huge power, even if they largely swing at crap, will still walk a reasonable amount because pitchers don’t want to see them connect on something and put it over the wall.

Look through the AL batting leaders. The power hitters around him take way more walks. There are few huge power guys who take as few walks per plate appearance, and those guys have twice as many (Shea Hillenbrand, with 6 walks in his .333/.370/.496 line, is the closest match, but there are a few, like Alex Rios, Chris Shelton, and Kevin Mench, hitting for a lot more power and only getting a few more BB/PA).

This may not mean anything. After all, it’s a couple of walks either way at this point in the season. It would be bad if pitchers, respecting his extra-base power, started to pitch him farther and farther out of the strike zone and he didn’t make some adjustments.

I don’t see it, though. He’s a smart guy, and we know he’s not a total hacker up there. If he stops finding success at what he’s doing, he’ll tighten it up a little.

In the meantime, he’s one of the few bright spots we’ve had this season, and it’s been good to finally see him break through.


19 Responses to “Jose Lopez, best second baseman in baseball”

  1. KW on May 21st, 2006 5:57 pm

    Best thing is, he’s only 20, right? If he stays healthy and keeps performing, he’ll put of HOF numbers by the end of his career.

  2. DMZ on May 21st, 2006 6:00 pm

    No, Lopez’s birthdate was (is) 11/24/83

  3. KW on May 21st, 2006 6:02 pm

    Oh. Right.

  4. PFK on May 21st, 2006 6:04 pm

    So shouldn’t we be ready to lock the boy up with a five year contract, give him and his family some real financial security, and assure ourselves of his future.

  5. DMZ on May 21st, 2006 6:13 pm

    Except that there’s really no point to doing that, since he’s under team control for almost all of that time, which means even in his arbitration years he’d be underpaid. The only way you do that is if you can get him to agree to a many-year, very-little deal that buys out the arb years and at least one year of free agency for less than you think you’d pay otherwise.

  6. eponymous coward on May 21st, 2006 7:03 pm

    Hmm…Maybe Lopez is the new Tony Batista:

    Age 24: .273 .318 .519
    Age 25: .277 .330 .518
    Age 26: .263 .307 .519

    The problem is that Batista didn’t adjust when people stopped throwing strikes. with his OBP going pretty darn low. But they seem like comps: Latin middle infielders who swing at lots of stuff, good power, probably not destined to stay in the middle infield as they move into the peak of their careers.

    If Jose makes adjustments, though, maybe he’s the new Aramis Ramirez. Yowsa.

  7. T-dawg on May 21st, 2006 7:05 pm

    just picked him up in fantasy and dropped vidro. vidro is just too much of an injury risk, and if i am going to lose, i’d rather do it with M’s.

    speaking of which… will Kenji PLEASE start tearing the cover off the ball? i need more out of him to make up for drafting King Felix in the 3rd, which is also killing me.

  8. PFK on May 21st, 2006 10:03 pm

    DMZ: But isn’t that exactly what the A’s did with a lot of their young talent, particularly pitching (and the Indians before them). If Lopez continues to blossom, his arb years are not going to be inexpensive. Sometimes even pretty average players earn sizeable awards in arbitration. Right now we could probably strike a relative bargain with Jose because, for young player who has come from nothing (and I’m just assuming that’s the case with Jose), it’s tough to wait for the real money to start. It’d make sense for him to trade away some of the upside of his arb years, and perhaps the upside of his first free agent year, in now in exchange for the security of a guaranteed contract. For the Mariners it’d be a modest gamble since Lopez could be injured or fail to progress, but it wouldn’t be a huge gamble — its probably a 10 to 15 million five year contract. Yes, for the time being we can get away treating him as slave labor, and we could decide just to milk that situation, but once the arb years hit, it turns on you fast. In any proposal we’d make, we’d still backload the contract, but overall the purpose would be to give him the security of some guaranteed money now (and more money sooner) in exchange for paying him less money over time (and tieing him up a little longer). He’d likely agree to something like this because the first 10 million is what gives you financial security — its the most important 10 million — and because at his age, if he does become a star, he knows he’ll have another big payday down the road. It seems to me this is exactly what Beane did with Hudson, Zito and Mulder.

  9. DMZ on May 21st, 2006 10:07 pm

    Uh huh, that’s all very rational and obvious.

    Do me a favor: go do some research on the Indians and A’s and when they gave out those contracts, and how much they paid out for them. If you can point out the guy who in his first full season got a deal that didn’t buy out free agent years, as you originally proposed, I’ll mail you a dollar.

  10. BelaXadux on May 21st, 2006 10:34 pm

    You isolate the key point on Lopez well, Derek: since he’s not walking, pitchers will try to exploit that during the second half of the season (and second time around the league), and the key to assessing him will to see how he adjusts. He came up with a well-deserved reputation as a dead-pull guy, which he also showed in most of his ML time, only to change in the offseason and cross up the scouting reports by successfully making contact on the outside pitch to go the other way. He’s probably seeing more strikes now than he will later because pitchers have been trying to exploit a major flaw which is much less in evidence now.

    Personally, I think that Jose will adapt well, but we’ll have to see. He’s got great bat speed, and to see him now he’s not a hack-a-matic guy: he’s swinging at pitches he can handle for the most part. He’s got confidence that he’ll find a way to get it down; he’s not defensive at the plate at all.

    I think that the Aramis Ramirez comparison is a good one, but Jose makes better contact, I think. Lopez is the best bat at 2B in quite some time, putting an asterisk by Jeff Kent and Boone’s best years; take the asterisk away, and he’s them with fewer walks, and maybe a bit more BA. . . . That’s nice to have, yessir. Ultimately, Jose is going to 3B, much like Batista, who if I recall started out at SS too, at least in name. But having that booming bat at 2B for a number of years yet sure is nice. (If of course the present 3Bman would stop hitting like a pitcher.)

    The Ms org hung a collar of ‘lazy and stubborn’ on Lopez. No small part of that was earned by him, yeah, but also this organization clearly gets ‘groupthink attitudes’ on guys, both too positive and too negative. Funny thing how success changes the group mindmeld into fawning dependency; we’ll see that with Lopez by the end of the season if he keeps this up. This year is too early to sign Lopez to a multi-year. You have to see how he adjusts, and how the league adjusts to him the second year around. Sometime in the middle of next year, if he’s on track his agent will get a phone call; in the offseason, they’ll get a firm offer, and probably a good one.

  11. PFK on May 21st, 2006 11:09 pm

    When I raised the question, I was thinking that a five year contract, as I did originally suggest, would include a free agent year. I responded to your first reply because your response was so dismissive, and I didn’t think a five year deal would necessarily be for “very little”. I think it’d be enough to be meaningful to Jose.

    I agree it’s early, and without researching it, I suspect it is quite a bit earlier than the As or Indians acted. But haven’t the rules changed to reduce the number of contract years a team controls? If so, that would be a reason for pulling the trigger more quickly (assuming the talent and attitude of the player justifies the vote of confidence). Jose’s minor league performance would seem to suggest his performance is not just a fluke, though I’d agree with your comments that it seems quite unlikely he’ll continue at his current rate.

    I raised the question just because it seems the Mariners have not utilized this approach in the past, and it’s worked for others. If you think its a bad idea because it’s too small a sample of positive results from Jose, I can respect that. But if the performance continues, I think it’s a legitimate question whether the team should act proactively to tie him up (including a free agent year), and if so, when? Should they abide by the old Gillick policy of only talking contract in the off-season, or should they be willing consider something mid-season. And how does the possibility of a new collective bargaining agreement affect the issue? I don’t know. I just thought in the context of discussing this one bright spot of the season, it was an interesting subject to discuss.

  12. gwangung on May 21st, 2006 11:12 pm

    but also this organization clearly gets ‘groupthink attitudes’ on guys, both too positive and too negative.

    Ah, a good point here. All organizations suffer from this, of course, but the Ms don’t have the ability to snap out of it ahead of the curve like the better organizations…There’s an innate overcautiousness that seems to plauge all their decisions from top to bottom, and an inability to take and judge rational baseball risks (and the Beltre signing will probably exacerbate that).

  13. Mr. Egaas on May 21st, 2006 11:55 pm

    Jose is showing that the next great Mariners team will have him in place. It’s been good to see a born and raised prospect from our organization come up, do well, and blossom. I have no doubts that Jose is gaining a lot of popularity, and that’s exactly what we need right now.

    That kind of bat from 2nd base. That’s huge.

  14. Mr. Egaas on May 21st, 2006 11:59 pm

    Is it best to say that Lopez is better suited for a 6-7 spot of the Lineup rather than 2nd?

    Not that anybody else on the team right now is more capable of the 2nd hole. You might as well keep him there to extend rallys, even with a medeocre OBP. The bunting is killing me, though.

    Know who would be a great 2 hole hitter? Hint: He’s Australian. Not that he’ll ever get there batting left handed surrounded by Ichiro and Ibanez.

  15. true_slicky on May 22nd, 2006 12:35 am

    Egaas, if Lopez wasn’t batting #2, Hargrove wouldn’t be able to have him bunt every otehr at-bat!

    Anyways, Lopez has rightfully earned the nickname Mr. Clutch!

  16. blamo on May 22nd, 2006 12:57 am

    RE: 15… off-topic. Why [deleted, off-topc]

  17. metz123 on May 22nd, 2006 10:21 am

    Lopez, with his career .315 OBP is not a #2 hitter. He’d probably be a #6 hitter on most clubs but with the current ineptitude of the M’s sluggers he should be batting cleanup with this crew.

    M’s don’t have anybody who slots into the old school thinking of what a #2 hitter should be, so Hargrove defaults to having his 2b hit in the #2 slot because all players who play second must have great bat control, yes? Therefore they should hit 2nd and bunt whenever anybody is on 1st with no outs, yes?


  18. eponymous coward on May 22nd, 2006 10:37 am

    I think that the Aramis Ramirez comparison is a good one, but Jose makes better contact, I think.

    Lopez: 81 Ks in 156 MLB games (his K rate’s stayed consistent up through now).
    Ramirez: 97 K’s per 162 games
    Batista: 103 K’s per 162

    It’s a small push in Lopez’s favor, but not a big one. The killer is the BB/K rate (same as before, using Lopez’s first 156 games and 162 game averages for the other two):

    Lopez: 18/82
    Ramirez: 42/97
    Batista: 36/103

    Adrian Beltre shows as a comp to both Ramirez and Batista, BTW.

    I’m going to guess the book on Lopez is going to become “do not throw him a strike and let him get himself out” pretty soon. 18/82 is a pretty extreme BB/K ratio- even a guy like Garret Anderson who’s at the far extreme for staying effective as a MLB hitter (I’m talking career, not right now) is at 30/89 per 162 games for his career. We’ll see if he adjusts.

  19. Jonah Keri on May 22nd, 2006 11:27 pm

    Really weird comment from recent Ken Rosenthal column, something I hadn’t heard before (to my untrained eye, Lopez looks pretty good defensively):

    Mariners second baseman Jose Lopez has even more RBIs, 34, than Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, 29, but scouts aren’t enamored of his defense. “He’s killing them,” one scout says. “He may get (shortstop Yuniesky) Betancourt killed on a double play someday. If it were the old days, Betancourt would be digging spikes out of his chest.”

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