Free agent second baseman Felipe Lopez is fresh off a season in which he compiled 4.6 Wins Above Replacement. The switch-hitter only qualified as a type B free agent, meaning he won’t cost potential employers a draft pick (the Brewers didn’t offer him arbitration anyway). Lopez will not turn 30 until May, making him a relative youngster as far as free agents are concerned.
Despite all of those factors, the market for Lopez’s services has been hushed. Strange, right? Lopez’s WAR total tied him with Ian Kinsler for fourth-best among second baseman. Why aren’t teams with a hole at the keystone position lining up to sign this guy?
It appears that GMs are wisely betting that Lopez will experience a good deal of regression in 2010.
Splitting his 2009 season between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers, Lopez hit a robust .310/.383/.427, good for a 116 wRC+. He did a good job of working the count, walking in 10.5 percent of his plate appearances and striking out just 16.6 percent of the time. According to Fan Graphs, Lopez swung at 21.5 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, comfortably below the 25.1 percent major league average.
While Lopez displayed a good eye, he also benefitted from a .360 BABIP. Using Derek Carty’s xBABIP calculator,we find that Lopez’s rate of home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop-ups and ground balls suggests that his BABIP should have been closer to .330. His career BABIP is also in that range, at .323. If Lopez has a .330 BABIP instead of a .360 mark, then he’s more of a .280/.350/.400-type hitter. Lopez’s career line? .269/.338/.400.
Sean Smith’s CHONE projects Lopez to bat .272/.342/.377 in 2010, which comes to -4 runs per 150 games. He’s not a bad hitter for a middle infielder, but 2009 looks like an outlier for a guy with a career 97 wRC+.
Primarily a shortstop earlier in his career, Lopez has played the majority of his games at second base over the past few seasons. In 2009, he posted an excellent +7.6 UZR/150 at the position.
Of course, using one year of defensive data is never a good idea. He was well below average at shortstop, with a career -11.2 UZR/150. Moving down the defensive spectrum, Lopez would be expected to post a better mark as a second baseman. He has, but that 2009 figure also looks like an outlier. Lopez’s career UZR/150 in 2,400+ innings at second is +2.6. CHONE projects him as a +1 run defender in 2010. Again, nothing wrong with that. But Lopez isn’t the defensive whiz that his 2009 numbers suggest.
With regression likely in store for both his bat and his glove, Lopez projects to be around a 2-2.5 WAR player in 2010. That’s not bad, but Kelly Johnson (projected for 2.5-3 WAR by CHONE) just inked a one-year, $2.35 million deal with the Diamondbacks. Orlando Hudson, a 2-3 WAR second baseman, is still on the market and competing with Lopez for the openings that remain. Dan Uggla and Jose Lopez are trade candidates.
The supply of second baseman appears to trump the demand. The Twins (if they’re uncomfortable with Nick Punto‘s great glove and slack bat or Alexi Casilla), Mariners (if they trade Jose Lopez or switch his position), Cubs and Dodgers could be in the market. But those teams could also evaluate Lopez’s talents, look at their in-house options and say, “how much of an upgrade is he, really?”
Felipe Lopez is a perfectly acceptable starting second baseman. But, given the chilly reception that he has received on the free agent market and the other alternatives available, he could end up having to sign as a super utility-type player.