Will the Real Nicky Lopez Please Stand Up

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Nicky Lopez broke into the league and posted a 56 wRC+ in 2019, followed by a 55 in 2020. Those first two seasons (594 PAs) made it look like he was a classic utility guy, all glove no bat. Then in 2021 the bat showed up and he posted a 106 wRC+, which carried Nicky to legit everyday player status. This year we have seen a full reversion to the pre-2021 version, but as of late he is looking very similar to last year’s better version again.






Through 7/17





After 7/17





The first half of the season was eerily similar to the terrible hitting Nicky Lopez in his first nearly 600 plate appearances as a Royal, though a 66 wRC+ is marginally better. His last 51 plate appearances (SMALL SAMPLE WARNING) have looked a lot more like last season. You will always notice with a player like this that the average and on-base are what really matter. Even when Nicky is hitting well, he just doesn’t have any power. He has exactly one extra base hit in the after 7/17 period where his line is looking pretty good. Last year he amassed 149 hits and 120 of them were singles, a staggering 80.5%. For a player of this profile to be good, it is all about finding a way onto first base be it bunt, walk, or seeing eye ground ball. If the OBP falls below .350 he starts to become a batter treading water in the lineup, but when it is below .300 he is almost unplayable except as a defensive replacement when the team has the lead.

Which player is real? The larger sample size at this point says that the bad hitter is the real Nicky, but if we are entering a second extended stretch where he is a league average hitter with an exceptionally talented and versatile glove, then the Royals need to figure out how to keep that player in the lineup. Nothing stands out in his batted ball profile to denote a difference from last year to this year. Barrels and hard hits are nearly non-existent, thus the 124 games in a row without a home run. His expected batting average last year was .239 (actual .300) and this year it is .250 (actual .247). There is a 55 point gap between the good BABIP last year and the bad one this season and that is bearing out in the outcomes. Nicky is starting to look a lot like a Juan Pierre to me.

Juan Pierre managed to hit 18 home runs over 1,994 games and 13 and a half years of big league play, a very Nicky Lopez looking output. He was fast, and a solid glove in the outfield, as well as a fantasy mainstay because of the impressive stolen base totals. Once he found his footing, Pierre posted a couple of years that made it seem like he was going to be a very good major leaguer, posting 4.2 fWAR in 2003 and 4 fWAR again in 2004, both years he managed to be a league average hitter or slightly better. From then on, the BABIPs went back toward league average except for a spike in 2009, his third and final season with a wRC+ above 100. I’m starting to think this should be our expectation for Nicky going forward. Lots of 80ish wRC+ seasons, and that makes him quite a bit riskier than most commentators were acting like at the end of 2021.

If my assessment is true, and batted ball luck is going make Nicky’s value bounce around year to year, it does not mean he is unplayable. Juan Pierre put together 24 fWAR in his career and had a run from 2001 to 2007 where he was good enough to be an everyday player every single year. All teams need those mortar guys to go between the foundation pieces that we are hoping guys like Witt, Pratto, and Melendez can be. Just don’t expect another year like 2021 from Lopez, it could happen, but I think 2022 is much more realistic.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Royals Review community. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors and writers of this site.