So we meet again.
For $2 million, this is a fantastic deal for the Cardinals. Lopez offers a lot of flexibility across the infield. He can fill in for Brendan Ryan at short as he recovers from the surgery to his wrist, he can platoon with Skip Schumaker at second base, and he’s nice Freese insurance, should the rookie fail to make good on his promise.
Before I get into what Felipe Lopez is to the Cardinals, let’s talk about what he is not, because there are some confused people out there. He is not the 4.6 WAR player that he was for Arizona/Milwaukee last season. While Lopez has hit for a robust .368 wOBA since being released by Washington, his walk rate, strikeout rates, isolated power all remain mostly static. His walks are slightly up, his strikeouts are down just slightly. The biggest difference has been his luck on balls in play. Lopez’s BABIP since being let go by the Nats has been .376. He can’t keep that up. His career BABIP is .320, and his expected BABIP or xBABIP during that span was .335, a big difference.
Lopez is not a lefty masher. You’ve probably heard some analysts talk about Skip Schumaker’s awful platoon splits, and Lopez hit for an .835 OPS last season against lefties, so, natch, there should be a platoon, and what a nifty platoon they would make, etc.. Well, yes, they should be platooned, but let’s not get carried away thinking the Cardinals are going to get this two-headed version of Dustin Pedroia at the keystone next season. Splits need to be regressed. Matt Klaasen summarizes how this works.
How much we regress depends on the variation of skill in the relevant population. The less variation there is, the more likely deviations from the mean are random occurrences. Practically speaking, left-handed hitters display more variation in platoon skill than right-handed hitters, so in estimating the platoon skills of left-handed hitter, we use less regression. According to The Book, we regress lefties’ platoon skills against 1000 PA against LHP of league average splits for left-handed hitters, and righties against 2200 PA against LHP. This means that when hitters have less than 1000/2200 PAs vs LHP, we estimate their platoon skill to be closer to league average than to their observed platoon performance. In practical terms, it also means that for righties, we’re usually safe in assuming they have near-average platoon skills.
For Schumaker’s career, he is a .358 wOBA hitter against RHP. Against lefties, he’s well below the Emilio Bonifacio line, with a pathetic .230 wOBA. That’s a 128 (!) point difference, or 38.2% in observed performance. But is that his true skill against lefties? No. Regressing Schu’s 283 plate appearances to the league average split, we get an estimated split of 15.1%. Getting to the fun stuff, applying this to his CHONE projected wOBA of .335, we can project Skip to hit .345 wOBA against righties, .294 against lefties. So that’s probably someone who needs to be platooned, but he’s not as horrible as perceived.
Running the same exercise with Lopez, his CHONE projects a .324 wOBA overall. We get .338 versus LHP, .319 against righties. So the offense at 2B does get better. The ripple effect is that when Lopez is in against LHP, so will Freese at be also, in at 3B. I used Freese’s MLEs and got a projected .355 wOBA against lefties. So as it turns out, this effectively is a Freese/Skip platoon.
What Lopez is – Repeating myself here, but –
- Fall back plan should Ryan not heal, but his career Total Zone per season at SS is -11. Help us if Boog misses a lot of time.
- Fall back plan should Freese not hit as expected.
- Platoon partner for Skip.
- Extra TLR toy, we all know he loves his utility players.
- A semi-decent trade chip come mid-summer, should they not have the playing time for him.
This team was already pretty good on paper as is, Lopez only makes it that much better. Over 628 plate apperances, CHONE has him worth 2.2 WAR. He should prove to be quite useful, and it will be interesting to see how La Russa works him in the lineup.