In his first 594 plate appearances across 2019 and 2020, Nicky Lopez slashed .228/.279/.307 with a .586 OPS, 56 OPS+, and was one-for-seven on stolen base attempts. As his uncertainty in the middle infield grew leading into the 2021 season, Nicky had a chance to prove himself once again in spring training. In the 39 plate appearances he had to secure his spot on the opening day lineup, Lopez slashed an astonishing .118/.231/.147 from the plate. On March 28, Nicky Lopez was optioned to the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Luckily for Nicky, he was brought right back up to the big leagues on March 31 when Adalberto Mondesi was placed on the 10-day Injured List. This opened a critical do-or-die opportunity for Nicky. It seemed as if the option down to AAA finally triggered something deep down that allowed him to show what he was truly capable of at the big-league level. As the opening day shortstop, Nicky started off the season hitting .304 through the season’s first 16 games. It looked as if he had finally figured it out…until the next 15 games where he mustered up only 3 hits in 39 at-bats. This brought his season batting average down to .200 on May 7 and re-ignited the collective opinion within the Royals’ community that he was still the same old Nicky.
Boy were we all glad to be wrong. In Nicky’s next 76 games he slashed .297/.355/.364 and brought his season batting average up to .271. Most of the fanbase seemed to think that Nicky was finally turning it around and could finally be a respectable player in the bigs. This time, however, the fans were right, but not nearly to the extent that seemed possible. From August 18 on, Nicky Lopez was the greatest contact hitter in the MLB. He slashed .352/.407/.449 in his final 44 games of the year and finished off the season batting .300 on the dot.
Not only was Nicky top 15 in the majors in batting average in 2021, but he was also one of the best shortstops defensively in the game (only fourth-best in the AL according to Rawlings…). Nicky led every position player in the entire MLB in Runs Prevented (19) and Outs Above Average (25) by a landslide. He was first amongst American League Shortstops in Fielding Percentage (.987) and committed the fewest errors (7). Finally, to top off all the impressive hitting and fielding stats mentioned above, he also stole 22 straight bases before finally being caught once in game number 161 for the Royals.
The improvements Nicky Lopez was able to make seemingly overnight have locked him into an opening day spot for next season. The next challenge for the Royals will be shuffling out all the middle infield pieces (see Bobby Witt, Jr.) and finding out where exactly Nicky will be located. He will likely continue to be just as excellent of a defender at either second base or shortstop next season like he has his whole career. The true challenging task he will face is keeping up his production with the bat. Due to his lack of power, Nicky needs to continue to hit for high contact and draw walks if he wants to stay successful at the top of the lineup for this team.
If I were to give Nicky a rating off his 2021 season, purely based on what he did in the field and at the plate, I would give him an A, with the only points taken off being from his lack of power. However, after factoring in the expectations that everyone in the fanbase, including myself, had for Nicky into the rating, then he easily finishes this season with something beyond an A+. He was unbelievably improved both at the plate and on the basepaths, all while keeping up his stellar defense at one of the hardest positions in baseball.
What would you rate Nicky Lopez’s 2021 season?
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