Lopez, Betancourt are huge problems
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, Iâ€™m all for it. Weâ€™ve seen the Lopez thatâ€™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 weâ€™ve seen a wince-inducing Lopez that makes us wonder why the team ever invested in him. I want to think that last seasonâ€™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 everyoneâ€™s cut bait on him heâ€™ll put up an All-Star season playing for some awful .400 team that invited him to spring training on a lark. Baseballâ€™s a weird game. And as much as I resist making any kind of personal judgments of players, Iâ€™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.