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Felipe Lopez’s Outstanding Season

Remember, way back in the day, when Felipe Lopez was talked about as a future superstar? Shortly after the turn of the decade Lopez became the toast of the Jays’ middle infield prospects*. He would make his major league debut in late 2001 and spend the next 500 plate appearances in Toronto, batting an unimpressive .240/.293/.399. Before turning 23 years old, he would be dealt to Cincinnati in a four-team trade and begin his career as a bit of a journeyman. In 2006, Washington traded for him, then released him in 2008. He landed on his feet with the Cardinals, then became a free agent and signed with Arizona. Earlier this year he was traded to Milwaukee and he’s put up the best line of his career: .310/.383/.427.

You didn’t misread that, Felipe Lopez reached base more than 38% of the time this season in 680 plate appearances. In mid-May he will turn 30-years-old and his defense is usually pretty unremarkable, so what makes Lopez’ second career 4.6 WAR season any different from the first time he accomplished it way back in 2005?

A lot.

In 2005, he walked 8.9%, struck out 19.1%, possessed a .195 ISO, .327 BABIP, and .360 wOBA. Since then his power has gone missing; even this year his ISO is only .118. The biggest difference between 2009 and 2005 is the amount of skill retention you would expect moving forward. His BABIP this season is a robust and almost certainly unsustainable .360. His career average BABIP is .323, and only once before has his seasonal BABIP finished above .330 – last year, .331. He is walking more than 10% of the time and his strikeouts are slightly down, but otherwise this appears to be the same hitter he was last year.

No GM should be silly enough to pay Lopez like a five-win player, but it’ll be interesting just how much some weigh 2009 over 2007 and 2008.

*Seriously, the system was loaded back then. Other names appearing in the system: Michael Young, Cesar Izturis, and Brent Abernathy. That’s not a bad stable of talent at all.