It was definitely a weird Thursday, as Rawlings announced their Gold Glove finalists for each position. While Alex Gordon did receive another nomination, which could put him in line for an eighth Gold Glove and a fourth-straight Gold Glove, the most polarizing story of the day may involve Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez, who was initially omitted from the Rawlings nomination list for AL second baseman.
However, it turns out that there was a mistake in the voting from Rawlings, and in true “Moonlight” fashion, Rawlings corrected their error, saying that Lopez “did” make the cut, and was nominated for the 2B Gold Glove award along with Cesar Hernandez of the Cleveland Indians; Danny Mendick of the Chicago White Sox; and Jonathan Schoop of the Detroit Tigers. This was further confirmed in the Tweet below:
Without a doubt, that was one of the weirder recent happenings to occur in regard to a baseball award (especially involving a Royals player). At the surface, it seems like someone on the list was mistakenly nominated over Lopez, and thus, they fixed it by saying there was a “tie” instead of rescinding the actual fourth-place finisher (Mendick to me is the most likely candidate). And thus, it makes superficial sense, unfortunately, that this could occur and the mistakes not rectified completely, especially with incentives tied up to many players’ contracts in regard to the award, even if it is just a nomination. Taking their name off and saying that there was a “mistake” in a Warrean Beatty manner could cause a huge issues with the MLBPA, as brought up below by Cody of KC Kingdom:
Despite all the drama, Lopez is in the hunt for his first Gold Glove, which is a tremendous honor manager Mike Matheny was advocating for Nicky toward the end of the 2020 season, despite Lopez’s struggles at the plate.
Since this is a defensive-centered award (“supposedly”, according to MLB.com), Royals fans have to ask the question: how good of a shot does Lopez have when it comes to acquiring his first Gold Glove in 2020?
There was some hope this Spring that Lopez, a second-baseman who went to college at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, would step up and become the Royals’ second-baseman of the future starting in 2020. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite materialize at the plate, as Lopez posted a .201/.286/.266 and 55 wRC+ in 56 games and 192 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. Despite gaining some “weight”, Lopez proved to be the same hitter as the one in 2019: a light-hitting, slap-hitter, who showed decent plate discipline, but didn’t get on base enough to really move the needle as a regular starting player in 2020.
However, while Lopez’s impact offensively on the lineup left a lot to be desired, his impact in the field was the inverse. Lopez was arguably the Royals’ best defensive player in 2020, and that was proven by the advanced metrics. Lopez led all Royals fielders in DRS (defensive runs saved), according to Fangrpahs, and OAA (outs above average), according to Baseball Savant’s Statcast data. Without a doubt, defensively, Lopez and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (who led all Royals fielders in Def rating), gave Royals fans a solid glimpse of how stable defensively the Royals could be up the middle in the future in 2021 and beyond.
Furthermore, while Lopez excelled in comparison to other Royals infielders his metrics also carry over across the American League. Of second baseman with 100 or more innings, Lopez ranks third in Def rating, behind only Hernandez (4.7) and Schoop (3.0). However, while Lopez lags a little in Fangraphs’ main defensive metric (Def), Lopez does lead all AL second baseman in DRS (8) and also paced all qualified second baseman in the American League with an OAA of 6, according to Statcast data.
To compare to his competition, especially on an OAA basis, Lopez was 2 outs better than Hernandez (who ranked 4th overall); 4 outs better than Schoop (who ranked 12th overall); and 6 runs better overall than Mendick (who ranked 27th overall). And thus, it’s not out of the question to think that the 25-year-old Lopez could take the award, especially considering the strength of his metrics, as well as the fact that the award will be primarily based on SABR’s SDI (SARB Defensive Index) to determine the winner.
What could get in the way? Well…it could be the fact that Lopez is not as big a “name” as the other second base Gold Glove candidates, which unfortunately has a big effect on awards such as this one. (That has been the case for Alex Gordon, who has won three straight Gold Gloves, even though his metrics haven’t been incredibly strong the past two years.)
There is no question that this AL second-baseman Gold Glove race will be an interesting one to follow for Royas fans. If one had to guess the outcome, the favorite may be Hernandez from the Indians. Hernandez not only leads in Def, but he also leads in UZR (3.8), and is second to Lopez in DRS by two runs (6). Furthermore, Hernandez was tied for third out of all MLB second baseman in OAA, another positive sign that Hernandez not only passed the eye test, but also backed it up with stellar metrics across the board. Add that with the fact that Hernandez played on a “postseason” club, and it seems likely that Hernandez will garner the Gold Glove honor to add to his and the Indians’ mantle.
However, even if Lopez does not win the Gold Glove honor this year, he certainly made his case in 2020, and could perhaps make his case even more evident or amplified of a 162-game campaign. Lopez has not quite lived up to his Minor League billing at the dish, as he has struggled to hit at an even average rate. However, on the field defensively? Lopez continues to wow, both in regard to the eye test as well as the metrics. It is intriguing to think what Lopez could be capable defensively of over a 162-game season. That being said, Lopez will have to hit better at the plate in order to become a full-time second baseman for the Royals in the future.
The race for this highly sought-after Gold Glove honor will certainly be a close one. Nonetheless, whether Lopez wins it or not, this much is certain: Lopez proved in 2020 that he should be in the discussion of the best “defensive” second baseman’s not just in the American League, but in all of baseball. Matheny and Dayton Moore appear to be ardent fans of Lopez, and it seems like they are behind him when it comes to encouraging success at the plate, which in turn justifies him as the Royals’ regular second baseman to start 2021, as long as no “major” free agency moves are made this off-season.
Nonetheless, while Lopez certainly showed the “golden” chops in the field and with the glove, there will need to be some gains made at the plate. A .552 OPS, even as a defensive-first second baseman, simply won’ t cut it in Kansas City, or Major League Baseball in general. While imagining him to be a .300 hitter next year like he was in the Minors may be wishful thinking, a .260/.350/.375 hitter with an OPS of .725 would be a massive upgrade over Lopez’s last two seasons at the dish, and something totally realistic as well, considering his prospect history.
Hence it will be interesting to see what he does this off-season in terms of improving his bat. Will Lopez develop into a Adalberto Mondesi-lite hitter with less power but more plate discipline? Or will he simply be a poor-man’s Chris Getz, and simply a utility guy for the next two to three seasons?
“Poor-man’s Chris Getz”…that gives me shudders just saying it in my head.