Unemployment Watch: Felipe Lopez

With all pitchers and catchers reporting in less than 48 hours, almost every free agent middle infielder has settled into a new (or old) home. In a market where Marco Scutaro (+4.5 WAR last season, signed a 2-year, $12.5 million deal with the Red Sox), Placido Polanco (+3.1 WAR, signed a 3-year, $18 million deal with the Phillies), Orlando Hudson (+2.9 WAR last season, signed a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Twins), Miguel Tejada (+2.6 WAR last season, signed a 1-year, $6 million deal with the Orioles), Jamey Carroll (+1.5 WAR last season, signed a 2-year, $3.85 million deal with the Dodgers), Pedro Feliz (+1.3 WAR last season, signed a 1-year, $4.5 million deal with the Astros), Adam Everett (+0.9 WAR last season, signed a 1-year, $1.55 million with the Tigers), and Orlando Cabrera (+0.6 WAR last season, signed a 1-year, $3.02 million deal with the Reds) were all able to find themselves decent contracts, three middle infielders remain unemployed: Pablo Ozuna (35 years old, -0.6 WAR last season), Chris Gomez (39 years old, -0.4 WAR last season), and Felipe Lopez (30 years old, +4.6 WAR last season).

That's right. Felipe Lopez, age 30, coming off a +4.6 WAR season, which was tied with Ian Kinsler for 4th best amongst ALL major league 2B last season, is stuck looking for a job with two aging backup players. Lopez is coming off a season in which he boasted a +13.1 bat and +7.8 glove at a premium position; in terms of 2009 WAR, Lopez was the absolute best middle infielder on the free agency market this offseason. And yet, he is still unemployed. This is certainly why he fired Scott Boras a few days ago. All this considered, why is Lopez still unemployed? Let's dig into the numbers.

Before we analyze Lopez's 2010 prospects, let it be noted that another "mediocre-career-turned-great-season" player, Marco Scutaro, was able to secure a sweet deal with Boston...however, the Sawks have a history of overpaying shortstops (see also Renteria, Edgar).

Felipe Lopez is a career .325 wOBA hitter (3% below league average) with an average glove at second (+2.6 UZR/150 career) and poor glove at short (-11.2 UZR/150 career). In 4078 PA since 2002, Lopez has accumulated +11.4 WAR to his name -- that interpolates to +1.7 WAR per 600-650 PA. A +1.7 WAR player up the middle wouldn't be all the bad to fill out a roster with holes, but when you consider that he has only twice in his career even posted a 1.7 or greater WAR, you have to question his reasonably contribution in terms of WAR value.

Last season, Lopez hit .310/.383/.427 (.810 OPS, .356 wOBA) with 9 HR to boot against a career slash line of .269/.338/.400 (.738 OPS). Lopez had a career year in terms of strikeout rate, BA, OBP, and BABIP, while posting a career low in speed score. Such does not bode well for sustainable future forecasts. His .360 BABIP was a full 24 point higher than his .336 xBABIP. If we adjust his season hits totals to reflect his luck-neutral batting line (and generously assume that all hits that were luckily gained were singles), then Lopez's batting line falls to .291/.366/.409 (.775 OPS). Still quite good, but we are assuming that all additional hits gained vis a via luck were singles and that Lopez will maintain his strikeout rate. Compound this with a history of inconsistent hitting, and you begin to see why most teams have avoided Lopez's services.

Even with a depressed, luck-neutral batting line of .291/.366/.409, Lopez would be posting career highs in BA, OBP and BABIP. When you considered the declining speed score, this batting line looks more like the upside than the baseline for Lopez's 2010 projections. CHONE projects Felipe Lopez as a -3 run bat and +1 run glove per 150 games next season, which -- after adjusting for position and replacement -- comes out to a +2.2 WAR season. Not too shabby -- again, that is until you consider the peripheral signs.

A team signing Lopez on a cheap with a 1-year, $4 million deal would be well worth the inherent risks of such a signing. However, anything above $5 million, given the free market value of a win ($3.5 million) and Lopez's history of inconsistency and hitting impotency, seems excessive and unworthy.

Very few teams are in need of a starting middle infielder to justify the cost/risk of a Lopez signing. The Cubs could conceivably use Lopez at 2B for the right price, but Hendry seems set with a Baker/Fontenot platoon. Maybe the Reds? Perhaps Toronto? Longshot in St. Louis? It will be interesting to see if and where and for how much Lopez ends up signing. Any bets on whether he or Jermaine Dye finds a job first?

(all contract information is courtesy of Cot's Contracts and does not include signing bonuses or option money)


The 'Bright' One said...

Felipe Lopez is what we in the business call a teaser. Dude will hit 5 homers the first week of the season and then him .150 for the rest of the year.

He's a worse version of Jose Cruz Jr.