Fresh off of a 2009 season in which he posted 4.6 Wins Above Replacement, Felipe Lopez entered the off-season anticipating free agent riches. However, with general managers likely anticipating a healthy dose of regression, the 29 year-old found the market for his services to be downright chilly.
Aggravated that he remained without gainful employment for 2010, Lopez canned uber-agent Scott Boras earlier this month. Now, word is that Lopez has limped back to St. Louis (where he spent part of the 2008 season), inking a one-year, $1.75 million contract with performance-based incentives.
Splitting the ’09 season between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers, Lopez turned in his best offensive campaign since he was a Cincinnati Red back in 2005. In 680 plate appearances, the switch-hitter put up a .310/.383/.427 triple-slash. Adjusting for park factors and league difficulty, Lopez’s lumber was 16 percent above average (116 wRC+).
However, odds are that those numbers decline next season. Lopez has a decent eye at the dish and he’s not totally bereft of power, but his secondary skills are pretty ordinary. When he bats .310, he’s a valuable offensive player. But what about when he bats .270-.280?
Lopez had a .358 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) last season, compared to a career .320 BABIP. His expected BABIP (XBABIP), based on homers, K’s, stolen bases, line drive percentage and rate of fly balls, pop ups and grounders hit, was about .330.
If Lopez benefits from fewer duck snorts and seeing-eye singles next season, then he’s likely to hit something closer to his career .269/.338/.400 line and 97 wRC+. Here are his projections for 2010:
CHONE: .273/.344/.381, 97 wRC+
Marcel: .279/.349/.396, 99 wRC+
Bill James: .281/.352/.400, 103 wRC+
New Busch won’t do any favors in Lopez’s attempt to stave off regression to the mean: according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, the stadium has depressed run-scoring by seven percent compared to a neutral park over the past three seasons, with a doubles factor of 93, a triples factor of 90 and a home run factor of 80.
Lopez has also lost some fantasy appeal by being a non-entity on the base paths over the past two seasons. Never a huge stolen base threat in the minors or in his first five years in the majors, Lopez swiped 44 bags in 56 tries in 2006, and 24 SB in 33 attempts in 2007. Since then, he stole eight bases in 16 attempts in 2008 and just six in 12 tries this past year. His Speed Score has gone from 6.2 in ’06 to 3.6 in ’09 (the MLB average is about five).
Just how much playing time Lopez receives with the Red Birds remains to be seen. Shortstop Brendan Ryan underwent right wrist surgery earlier this month, and he still has a ways to go in his recovery. Though Lopez has a career -11.2 UZR/150 at short, he could fill in there if Ryan’s rehab drags on. Also, Lopez provides insurance in case third base prospect David Freese (projected 108 wRC+ by CHONE) falters. He could spell second baseman Skip Schumaker against some lefties, too. Though he doesn’t figure to see a ton of time in the outfield, considering St. Louis’ Holliday/Rasmus/Ludwick alignment and his minimal experience running down balls, Lopez could get an occasional start as a fly-catcher.
Considering the investment size and Lopez’s versatility, the Cardinals should be praised for snagging a guy who could be a league-average starter at a bargain-basement price. Fantasy owners, however, would be wise not to expect Lopez to replicate his 2009 level of offensive production. As Carson Cistulli said about him in The 2010 Second Opinion, “Lopez is probably a better real-live baseball player than fantasy one.”