Lopez, Betancourt are huge problems

DMZ · July 10, 2008 at 8:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I’ve been trying to dodge writing this all season, hoping at some point that things would turn around.

Here’s my pre-season post-o-rama:

Lopez. If putting him at #2 makes him a more selective hitter and helps him get his career back on track, I’m all for it. We’ve seen the Lopez that’s full of potential and was on a track to become a key part of a young Mariner middle-infield tandem that would help the team field competitive teams for years to come, and we’ve seen a wince-inducing Lopez that makes us wonder why the team ever invested in him. I want to think that last season’s swoon was due to off-field problems as much as anything. I have to admit that I wonder if Lopez is just going to end up being another young player who stalled. And then maybe two years after everyone’s cut bait on him he’ll put up an All-Star season playing for some awful .400 team that invited him to spring training on a lark. Baseball’s a weird game. And as much as I resist making any kind of personal judgments of players, I’ll say this: I think Lopez is a smart guy, and knows all that. The question may be whether or not he wants to work that hard now, and what he decides he wants to do with his career, more than whether or not he has the talent.

I’ve been a Lopez booster for a long, long time, even though there was a point it seemed like I was down on him because I thought he’d be good and not a superstar, and popular sentiment was a lot more optimistic.

We got an offensive rebound of sorts, where he’s hitting for average, not getting hiw walks, and not hitting for good power either. Still, among second basemen, that’s above average, and if he was playing reasonable defense, he’d be a net plus for the team.

He’s not, though. I was poking around while thinking about writing a piece on why the M’s, having improved their overall outfield defense, haven’t done a significantly better job at getting outs, and — there’s no writing about this team’s defense without confronting the two terrible defenders up the middle.

Lopez is slow, plus his reactions haven’t been great, and once in a while we get treated to seeing a ball go right through his legs, or off his noggin, waking him from a nap, and so on. I’ve been a little glad that we don’t get the best defensive stats until after the season, because I held out hope that he’d get better. But even the traditional, not-much-good stats, like fielding percentage… not good. Zone rating, terrible. And I mention that not as evidence but — I glimpsed these things, and they backed up everyone’s observation that his defense was way, way off, and I wanted to wait longer.

Too late. Replacement Level Yankees blog took a swing at ranking second basemen based on total contribution and Lopez tied for last. The metrics aren’t the greatest, but there’s one thing we need to confront: Lopez may well be the worst defensive second baseman in the league right now. It’s not just Sexson that’s killing the ground ball defense — it’s Sexson, Lopez, and Betancourt.

I don’t know what’s happened, I don’t have a handy explanation for why Lopez’s range is this far off, though the obvious suspect is ill conditioning (however you want to interpret that) or some kind of hamstring injury we just haven’t heard about yet.

And since I’ve brought it up — Betancourt is almost exactly the same problem. He’s horrible out there. He’s not making plays. His range is gone. Imagine when he first came up, how often he’d get behind second or third even just backing plays up. I was surprised at least once a game to notice how far he’d gone. And now, just like Lopez, he barely moves. It’s Beltre ranging way in and to his left to field slow grounders in front of Betancourt, and up the middle – it’s a free hit if it gets past the pitcher.

Unlike Lopez, he’s not even average for his position offensively. We knew we’d seen the best of Betancourt before — hitters who beat the ball into the ground don’t have a lot of room to evolve, and Betancourt’s skill set hasn’t changed at all. But this, this hollow-and-low average with a sprinkling of doubles, combined with a marked decline in defense, makes him a huge drag on the team.

If you were going to make a list of the team’s problems, with Ichiro being last and things like “the starting pitching is horrible” on top, you’d have to put these two, and particularly their immobility, right up there. The porous infield defense is killing guys like Silva who rely on it. They pretty much have to pray that a ball put into play goes to Beltre or center/right field. That’s it — that’s all they have. And as we’ve seen, while Lopez has collected some key hits, neither of them are helping the team consistently put up runs.

If this keeps up, improving the infield is going to have to be a priority for the team this off-season, and we’re barely halfway through the year.


82 Responses to “Lopez, Betancourt are huge problems”

  1. nycmariner on July 10th, 2008 10:09 am

    In happier news, the same metrics show that we have the worst catcher, fourth worst LF, third worst 1B and worst DH (more than twice as bad as the next worst). Woo hoo!

  2. gwangung on July 10th, 2008 10:10 am

    Well, the double play twins have to be addressed, but I think they’d be year two of a multi plan year. In fact, I think a smart GM would do it that way and not try to introduce changes all at once…

  3. RoninX on July 10th, 2008 10:11 am

    What is the deal on this kind of defensive regression (especially with Yuni)? Do we ever see players come out of it? I mean usually it seems to be caused by aging/decrease in fitness, and aging isn’t exactly reversible. But age shouldn’t be the issue here though fitness certainly could be.

    Do we ever see players turn it around defensively once they start to slip? I’m not talking about recovering from quirky error seasons, I’m start about the range factors etc.

    I ask because I can think of any examples of this kind of trend reversing.

  4. bakomariner on July 10th, 2008 10:22 am

    I obviously have no insight to their thoughts or feelings, but it looks like laziness, apathy, and fitness…

    It’s sad really…Yuni was a BLAST to watch…most thought he’d be the next Omar out there…

  5. smb on July 10th, 2008 10:23 am

    I feel like Yuni’s defensive descent from exciting whiz SS of the future to mediocre surplus second baseman has been really fast. Like, fell off a cliff fast. How soon before we are trading him for Hector Luna?

  6. John in L.A. on July 10th, 2008 10:31 am

    I know this has been talked about quite a bit before because I always have the same thought when I read it:

    When I took a nice long break from the Mariners last year (or was it the one before that?) most things were pretty much as expected when I came back… except for one thing. I was shocked at Yuni’s defense. When I left he was an acrobatic and smooth highlight reel at short. Prone to some rookie errors, but looking like a defensive wiz kid.

    When I came back, he looked slow and clumsy. It was pretty shocking when you don’t see it gradually happen.

    To my untrained eye, his problems seem like the kind of problems you’d have if you were carrying an extra 25 pounds – like trying to play short wearing a backpack and carrying water bottles. I don’t think it matters in his case if it is muscle or fat… I think he needs to get lean.

  7. Scando47 on July 10th, 2008 10:39 am

    Maybe a letter to Sam Perlozzo or whoever is supposed to coach the infielders is in order? Sort of like the letter to Raffy Chavez on Felix, except without a solution outside of making Jenny Craig a Special Assistant to the team.

    A year or so ago, back when Yuni was still considered hot stuff some photos emerged on facebook of him partying with a bunch of girls from my high school (who were college freshmen at the time.) It seemed strange at the time, and now seems like a pretty clear indicator of how seriously Yuni has been taking his profession.

  8. msb on July 10th, 2008 10:39 am

    In happier news, the same metrics show that we have the worst catcher, fourth worst LF, third worst 1B and worst DH (more than twice as bad as the next worst). Woo hoo!


  9. Swungonandbelted on July 10th, 2008 10:45 am

    [has its own post now]

  10. argh on July 10th, 2008 10:46 am

    Some really stiff conditioning work might be part of the answer here — and at some point you do have to wonder about some variety of the ‘clubhouse chemistry’ thing as a source of trouble. Most of us have worked in environments where morale got sufficiently low (usually because overall company performance was going off a cliff) that otherwise good people started mailing it in because it just didn’t bloody-well matter any more. I know highly-paid ‘baseball professionals’ are supposed to be immune from this sort of creeping job malaise but I wonder if that’s really the case.

  11. Lauren, token chick on July 10th, 2008 11:15 am

    I find Lopez and Betancourt appealing for some reason. Maybe memories of how good they seemed to be when they first came up, combined with the layperson’s appreciation of how J. Lo seems to keep coming through in, um, “clutch” situations. It feels like both of them should be fixable, too, by the right training and management approach. That would be an awesome thing for the new clubhouse to take on.

  12. hcoguy on July 10th, 2008 11:29 am

    This makes me a sad panda.

    Looks like Tug takes Richie’s spot on the roster, any chance he can be a stopgap measure til Triunfel or whoever?

  13. bratman on July 10th, 2008 11:35 am

    DMZ – couldn’t agree more with you. FINALLY someone jumps off the damn J.LO / Yuni train.

    I want them out too …. take out all of the Bavasi trash (obviously there are still a couple keepers)

  14. rrwrayiii on July 10th, 2008 11:46 am

    I feel like the combo of them together is just not a good fit. I think Yuni is just happy to be here in America and the bigs. He may be a bad influence on Jose detracting his focus from baseball perhaps. If we trade Yuni, maybe it will help Lopez give more attention to his production in the field and make him more aware of things that can happen. I have been a big Lopez fan for a while now and not ready to cut the cord. He is our most productive hitter at the plate in my opinion and gets a few nice clutch hits.

    I say trade Yuni. If you dont get a SS back or sign one this winter, let Mike Morse have the shot again. He may have made a few mistakes in the field, but that guy is a winner you want on your team. He will do whatever it takes to win. I hated seeing him go down this year. He will always grind out an AB and get base hits.

  15. everett on July 10th, 2008 11:51 am

    #64 – I’m fairly sure that if we’re looking to upgrade the defense that Mike Morse isn’t the answer.

  16. Jeff Nye on July 10th, 2008 11:52 am

    Mike Morse nooooooooooo

  17. edgar for mayor on July 10th, 2008 12:10 pm

    I’ve always likes the idea of Yuni at 2B. We have a couple of guys in the system that can play SS, though I think Tui doesn’t count much anymore. We also have a couple of second basemen in the minors, if Yuni stays at SS.
    I’ve said it before though, I really hope the Mariners deal Lopez at the ASB because I don’t see his value getting any higher. Plus, if you trade him in the offseason you have a chance of that second half slump thing popping up again.

  18. joser on July 10th, 2008 12:15 pm

    I think we over-rated Yuni a little bit in his first year. It was hard not to, considering the string of potted plants he replaced, and I think we also happened to get a small sample that reflected him at his best (which may or may not reflect “hunger” but given his history to that point that’s an easy guess to make). That said, it’s obvious he’s bulked up and slowed down since then. Blame an unlimited American diet, plus access to modern strength and conditioning techniques and equipment. I kind of wonder if the trainers didn’t realize what they were doing to him, since they don’t normally get kids who’ve been bereft of both their entire lives (even the latin prospects generally come out of academies where they get a more American experience). The baseball I saw in Cuba didn’t feature anybody you would consider bulky, even on their pro teams, and if the state of the stadiums certainly didn’t suggest they had any fancy weightrooms to go to. Maybe Yuni was just a chubby, slow kid forced to live in a lean, slick-fielding body, and like so many folks in America, it just took a bunch of fat and carbs to let him out.

  19. pygmalion on July 10th, 2008 12:18 pm

    #64 – I’m fairly sure that if we’re looking to upgrade the defense that Mike Morse isn’t the answer.

    You’re only fairly sure?

    Morse is a shortstop the way Vidro is a second baseman.

  20. firemane on July 10th, 2008 12:23 pm

    I was poking around while thinking about writing a piece on why the M’s, having improved their overall outfield defense, haven’t done a significantly better job at getting outs,

    Note sure this is true. As of July 8th:

    Defensive Efficiency (calculated as [H-HR+ROE]/[BFP-K-BB-HBP-HR]):

    McLaren April .690
    McLaren May .665
    McLaren June .667
    (McLaren overall .675)
    Riggleman June/July .720

    Yes – it is a SMALL sample under the Riggleman leadership, but the team has DRASTICALLY and UNEQUIVACABLY been getting more outs. Maybe it’s just random noise – it’s way too early to tell.

    But, .720 DER is best-in-baseball territory.

    So, the obvious rebuttal is that managers cannot make fielders better.

    My belief – which I have held for some time – is that POSITIONING is *MORE* than 50% of the defensive puzzle. So, a poorly positioned team is going to appear dreadful in every metric. Certainly, athletic ability helps, but I believe the basic assumption by most people is that defensive results are predominately about INDIVIDUAL defensive prowess. I believe that this assumption is in error.

    Riggleman specifically noted he was changing from “situational” positioning to a more “pitcher/batter” positioning basis — like Atlanta used during their run of titles (and they had a slew of DER titles in there, as well).

    Defensive metrics have always been problematic, and rarely predictive. I believe this is because the defensive SCHEME is not something that is general knowledge or can readily be quantified into stats.

    What I do know is that before Riggleman took over, the team was consistently 29th or 30th in DER. Today, they are 24th – with a TEAM DER that has managed to climb to .691, (when it was as low as .683, IIRC).

    It is VERY surprising to me that one could positively impact DER this much, this fast, because you’ve got 1/2 a season of data holding back change.

    Way too early to begin cheering, but it is definitely something to watch for the rest of the season.

  21. Scando47 on July 10th, 2008 12:24 pm

    #64: That argument sounds a lot like the argument that was made when Carlos Guillen was given away. I’m not sure Yuni has the talent Carlos had, but a player’s influence on his teammates is one of those things that is basically impossible to accurately judge. If there is a focus problem with Jose, it is his fault and the coaching staff’s fault for not addressing it, not neccesarily Yuni’s.

  22. Mat on July 10th, 2008 12:30 pm

    Looking at his career right now, Jose Lopez reminds me a lot of Luis Rivas. Neither one of them hit all that much when they were minor leaguers, but they didn’t hit much while they were young, and I think that it assumed that age would continue to make them better players, but ultimately “holding their own” at the plate at a young age in the minors didn’t portend anything more than about an 80 OPS+ in the majors.

  23. IdahoInvader on July 10th, 2008 1:06 pm

    I’ve always thought that Yuni is really this guy reincarnated or whatever…


  24. mw3 on July 10th, 2008 1:07 pm

    Lopez is one of the few good young players the M’s have in their entire system, jettisoning him now would be asinine. Lopez could take another ten years to develop the plate discipline to walk fifty plus times but I could easily see him putting up a .320/.350/.425 line with eighty to ninety runs scored and ninety to one hundred knocked in over each of the next three to six years. Betancourt, on the other hand, is garbage. I would look to see him packaged with Washburn, when Wash is traded, in hopes of getting a +10 defensive shortstop regardless of said shortstops offensive skills (ala Tony Pena Jr.). A move like this could also light a fire under Lopez to maybe lose twenty-five pounds so his glove would have a chance of being neutral.

  25. IdahoInvader on July 10th, 2008 1:09 pm

    My link didn’t appear to work. It was Deivi Cruz fwiw

  26. Paul B on July 10th, 2008 1:30 pm


    Maybe move Lopez to the OF (a la Danny Tartabull).

    Put Lopez in left, try this Tug guy out in the infield, put Ibanez at first or DH, release Vidro, put Cairo back on the bench where he should stay since his only value is as late inning defensive replacement.

  27. Eugene on July 10th, 2008 2:59 pm

    I agree that these guys really are no longer as good as they should be and that they certainly are problems, but these guys are 2nd and 4th on the team in extra base hits. Can we just go ahead and punt the whole team?

    Mariners extra-base hits
    1) 37 Ibanez
    2) 31 Lopez
    3) 30 Beltre
    4) 27 Betancourt
    5) 19 Sexson
    6) 17 Ichiro
    7) 15 Vidro
    8) 13 Kenji

    14) 1 Felix

    25) 0 Willie

  28. RoninX on July 10th, 2008 4:26 pm

    …it took me longer than it should have to figure out why Kenji and his 13 extra base deserved a smiley face 8)

  29. Eugene on July 10th, 2008 4:32 pm

    8 ) or 8) ?
    Looks like Willie moved up on the list today.

  30. Dicky Amaral on July 10th, 2008 8:41 pm

    WFB should get a legitimate shot as the everyday 2B…

  31. don52656 on July 11th, 2008 1:38 am

    Amen, Amen, and Amen. I’ve been wondering about the Lopez love affair. He’s certainly better than last year at the bat, in fact, he’s pretty valuable at the bat. But, he has absolutely no range at 2B and it’s killing the team defense. Personally, I think Sexson was a better fielding 1B than Lopez is at 2B.

    I also totally agree about Betancourt. The only above average defensive player in the infield right now is Beltre. Maybe they ought to put him at SS.

  32. tuttle07 on July 11th, 2008 2:50 pm

    What are the chances that Beltre could play SS? If the M’s already have a below-average fielder, then they might as well put a decent bat there.

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