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2019 Season in Review: Nicky Lopez

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He grounded out right into our hearts in 2019.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals
Jul 17, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez (1) singles in a run during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports
Peter G. Aiken

When the Royals signed Chris Owings to his inexplicable big league deal way too early in the offseason, a lot of people wondered what about Nicky Lopez. All Loepz did after a solid spring was hit .353/.457/.500 in Omaha with five strikeouts and 20 walks.

So after putting up those numbers in AAA, the question was answered. Things started off great with hits in eight of his first nine games and a .405 OBP, but then things changed massively. He struggled for weeks, hitting far too many weak grounders and not enough of anything else. He was consistently making ineffective contact, and at that, not nearly as much contact as was expected. His 16.3 percent strikeout rate in the first half is very good compared to the rest of the league, but far worse than many expected.

For the season, Lopez’s average exit velocity of 83.8 miles per hour ranked as 35th worst in baseball. He was near such legendary players as David Fletcher, Kristopher Negron, Adam Engel and Tony Kemp. Before you ask, Billy Hamilton was the worst at 78.3 MPH, so he’s in a league of his own. Lopez’s hard hit rate of 19.1 percent ranked as 12th worst in baseball. His barrels per plate appearance rate was 36th worst. These are all out of 478 hitters. Yeesh.

The injury to Adalberto Mondesi in July probably gave him far more playing time than he was due with the struggles he had, but he wasn’t getting any better throughout all that time he had playing shortstop fairly regularly. He had a bit of a wrist flareup at the end of August, which coincided with the return of Mondesi, so he had a week off.

But after coming back from the wrist injury, Lopez looked like a different player. He played great defense all year and that continued, but he seemed generally more heads up and was playing like his hair was on fire. And look, if you don’t have any power, that’s what you have to do to earn your keep in the big leagues. The sample isn’t even small. It’s not even tiny. It’s minuscule. But it’s there. Over his final 10 games and 33 plate appearances, Lopez hit .433/.485/.667 with just one strikeout and three walks. That ISO is what’s exciting because he really seemed to be hitting the ball with more authority toward the end of the year, even getting a little loft at times.

Sure enough, even using the arbitrary endpoints, the Statcast numbers indicate some improvement:

Batted Ball Data

Statcast Category Pre-Final 10 Games Final 10 Games
Statcast Category Pre-Final 10 Games Final 10 Games
Avg. Exit Velocity 83.6 MPH 85.6 MPH
Avg. Launch Angle 2.1° 3.8°
Hard Hit Rate 17.80% 27.60%

Nope, it’s still not what you want. He absolutely needs to get even better than this, but signs are there. He was lauded for his ability to make contact and then struck out 16.3 percent of the time in the first half (which is still good compared to the rest of the league, but not for what he was supposed to be). He struck out just nine percent of the time in the second half and just 6.3 percent of the time in September. So that improved.

So things got better toward the end of the year and throughout it all, he said all the right things noting that he needs to get stronger. In order for him to be a solid regular, he doesn’t have to be a 25-home run bat. He needs to show enough power to keep the outfielders honest to allow his all fields approach some space for balls to drop. If he can do that and pair it with his defense and base running, Lopez has a future as a regular. If he can’t, he doesn’t. It’s as simple as that and we’ll see how that pans out starting next season in Surprise.

Poll

How would you grade Nicky Lopez’s 2019 season?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A
    (7 votes)
  • 14%
    B
    (93 votes)
  • 57%
    C
    (364 votes)
  • 24%
    D
    (153 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (11 votes)
628 votes total Vote Now