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Felipe Lopez has played the equivalent of about 1 full season of major league baseball. The youngster was dealt in the off-season to the Cincinnati Reds for two above average prospects - which makes 3 shortstops that J.P. has sent packing. This season will tell us a lot about the kind of career we might expect Felipe to have. The main concern this year has to be playing time: Barry Larkin is still in place and will likely get his 300-400 PA, which means that Felipe will compete with Brandon Larson for PT (unless the latter is traded).

Lopez has been compared to Miguel Tejada by some, and to Alex Gonzalez by others (including the author of this article). The end result will likely see him somewhere in between with the bat in his hands. Felipe's future value will depend a lot on whether he can handle shortstop over the long-term. His fate on defence might be similar to one-time organisational mate Tony Batista - shuffled around the infield, eventually to land at third base.

Instead of looking at on-base, slugging percentage and their raw stats, I will focus on assessing the development of their batting skills.

I break down batting into 4 component skills: 1) hitting line drives (and beating out infield singles), estimated by batting average on balls in the field of play [(H-HR)/(AB-HR-K)]; 2) power hitting [(2B+3B+2*HR)/(AB-K+SF)] - see my article on Josh Phelps for a discussion of this measure; 3) drawing walks [(W-IW)/(PA-IW-HBP-SH)]; and 4) avoiding strikeouts [K/(PA-IW)]. Truly similar hitters ought to be close in at least 3 of 4 areas.

Minor League Career

I excluded Miguel's 1994 season in the Dominican Summer League and Felipe's 23 games in St. Kitts and Dunedin in 1998.

Miguel age level PA bifAve power walk whiff k/w
1995 19.10 A-.... 315 .280 .165 .125 .173 1.38
1996 20.10 A+.... 521 .313 .153 .094 .180 1.92
1997 21.10 AA.... 568 .304 .163 .089 .174 1.95
1998 22.10 AA/AAA. 63 .341 .208 .081 .143 1.77

Felipe age level PA bifAve power walk whiff k/w
1999 19.14 A..... 607 .369 .153 .101 .259 2.56
2000 20.14 AA.... 506 .320 .112 .062 .217 3.49
2001 21.14 AAA/AA 478 .332 .205 .075 .247 3.31
2002 22.14 AAA... 241 .391 .140 .118 .154 1.31
Note: the 63 PA in 1998 was a rehab assignment.

It is very helpful that both players were born in the same month (4 years apart). Felipe has had a consistent edge in the line-drive department, while Miguel has had a significant edge in K rate and a slight edge in walks (with power about even). But Felipe has faced stiffer competition at every age - and so I think that most analysts looking at these numbers would give a slight overall edge to Felipe (subject to adjustment for league and park, however).

Breaking it down by 2-year stats:

year age level PA bifAve power walk whiff k/w
95/96 19-20 A-+.... 836 .301 .158 .106 .177 1.68
97/98 21-22 AA/aaa. 631 .308 .168 .088 .171 1.94

99/00 19-20 A/AA... 1113 .345 .133 .084 .240 2.87
01/02 21-22 AAA/AA. 719 .350 .185 .089 .216 2.42

The skills start to come into focus when we aggregate the data a bit. The major differences are the strikeout rate and the "line drive" rate, though Felipe closed the K gap on Miguel when they faced AA/AAA pitching.

The Big Leagues

During the years these two prospects were playing in the high minors, they both saw significant major league playing time. At age 21-22 years, Miguel had only 10 more PA in the majors than Felipe. Let's look at how they adjusted to big league pitching:
year  age    level    PA  bifAve  power walk whiff  k/w
97/98 21-22 AA(aaa). 631 .308 .171 .088 .171 1.94
97/98 21-22 Major... 511 .268 .145 .060 .211 3.50

01/02 21-22 AAA/AA.. 719 .350 .185 .089 .216 2.42
01/02 21-22 Major... 501 .306 .159 .067 .259 3.88

We know much more about the major league parks in Toronto and Oakland than about the minor league parks these players toiled in. Oakland's large foul territory reduces all of these measures (because of the extra pop ups). Felipe's advantage in power shrinks (but does not disappear) if we adjust for park. Skydome generally plays as a very good singles and doubles park, so his real edge in line-drive hitting is not quite as large as the data above suggest. On the other hand, Tejada's whiff rate has to be adjusted upwards too. Both players' K/W ratio skyrocketed in the majors, adding more anecdotal evidence in support of the notion that big league pitchers can find holes in young players' swings (and paint corners) that their AAA/AA brethren can not.

In broad brush strokes, both players retained their basic skill-sets, but Tejada's adjustment to big league ball was actually more "painful". This is understandable, since he skipped AAA and had a troublesome hairline fracture of his right middle finger at the start of 1998 (his first full season). The important point is that Felipe's struggles were not really abnormal, at least if Miguel is any indication. Felipe looks better than I had expected he would. Let's look at what might come next.

The Future

So far so good for Felipe, but let's see how Tejada's skills have developed in his major league career to date:

Miguel age level PA bifAve power walk whiff k/w
97/98 21-22 Major 511 .268 .145 .060 .211 3.50
99/00 23-24 Major 1355 .278 .170 .086 .146 1.69
01/02 25-26 Major 1398 .292 .173 .053 .124 2.33

Miguel Tejada has shown improvement across the board (with the jury still out on his ability to draw walks). Perhaps not coincidentally, he has played everyday for the last 4 years, suffering no significant injuries in that time. He's developed his power and hit more line drives. His progress in the strikeout department has been remarkable - he lowered his K rate by an incredible 31% and a further 15% in comparison to his "baptism" years. He has established a K rate which is much lower than what he achieved in the minors.

Will Felipe be a star? No one can reasonably expect his career path to mirror Tejeda's: Felipe's K rates have always been higher and it will be difficult indeed for him to match Miguel's tremendous improvement in that area. On the other hand, Felipe has excellent power for a middle infielder. Thus, if he can bring his K rate into line with what he did in the high minors, major league success and the big big money should follow.
Felipe Lopez, Star in Waiting? | 13 comments | Create New Account
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Coach - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 10:26 AM EST (#73587) #
Robert, another terrific study. Since there's no way I will ever be in your league with the numbers, my inclination is to introduce the "dreaded intangibles" to the discussion. Before I go all Casey Stengel on you guys (again) I want to repeat how much I have learned, and continue to learn, from statistical analysts.

When I use the term "stathead," it is with great respect; to me it means someone who is more diligent than I am, more of a truth-seeker, more dedicated to discovering and improving methods of baseball analysis. So I've tried to become conversant, to understand why park-adjusted batting average on balls-in-play is more useful than AVG, and to incorporate the findings of these scientists into my Yogi-esque conclusions.

All of the psychological mumbo-jumbo and mysterious "chemistry" that fascinates me is impossible to explain, quantify or defend as anything but opinion. And since I don't see every inning of every game, I'm basing those opinions on some intermittent, therefore random, observations. In short, what I have to say "might" be true, whereas statistics are true. And even if I'm right on some of my wild, unprovable guesses, how much do they affect outcomes?

It's a bit embarrassing now, but I made the Lopez-Tejada comparison last winter, based on Felipe's ML numbers and his glorious couple of months in Toronto at the end of 2001. Only 20, playing out of position and over his head, he showed an electric bat and a "just happy to be here" enthusiasm. It was impossible not to get excited about his future. Switch-hitting SS with power, raced through the minors at a young age, expected to keep improving for a few more years... the sky appeared to be the limit.

It's only a rumour that Lopez became very close to Raul Mondesi; it's not as well-documented as his K-rate that Mondi spends more time in clubs than the batting cage. It has been mentioned publicly by various Jays personnel that they were not happy with Felipe's work ethic. I'm not the only one leaping to the conclusion that there's a connection between A, B and C. If Miguel had decided he didn't have to apply himself anymore when he reached the Show, and devoted more time to off-field fun than on-field effort, he wouldn't have an MVP trophy.

Tejada, by all accounts, never forgets his impoverished beginnings, is grateful every day for his opportunity, and constantly works to achieve what Robert calls "remarkable" improvement, instead of relying on his obvious talent and coasting. Felipe also overcame some early challenges most of us can't imagine, but as a young man, seems less motivated and more complacent.

Sending Lopez to Syracuse last year wasn't just for baseball reasons, and the improvement the Jays brass wanted to see wasn't anything to do with physical tools or results as measured by stats. Some BB contributors have complained that when he returned in September, he wasn't used. My guess is, he still wasn't listening to the coaches -- Brian Butterfield could have saved his career, if he cared -- and still didn't display the dedication to his craft that is necessary for any player, no matter how talented, to succeed.

He was given two wake-up calls, and didn't answer them. So he's gone. Since Jason Arnold is excellent value in return, the trade is very good, even if Lopez does come to his senses in Cincinnati. Bob Boone's stated plan of moving his son to 2B and Larson to 3B, with Larkin at SS as long as he wants to be, raises questions of playing time for Felipe, and some young guys with egos larger than their common sense would not react well to that situation. Others would realize they are on the verge of losing a fantastic opportunity, and rededicate themselves. There are no formulae to predict how Lopez will respond. My coachey-sense is tingling in a bad way; I still believe he could have become the next Tejada, but fear he'll never even compare to Alex Gonzalez -- either one.
Craig B - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 10:27 AM EST (#73588) #
Robert, I can provide some small measure of insight into the AA and AAA parks of these teams.

Oakland's AA park in Midland is a slight hitter's park (in a moderate hitter's league).

Oakland's AAA park in Sacramento is a good hitter's park as well.

Toronto's former AA park in Tennessee is also a good hitter's park. The new park in New Haven is very marginally better for pitchers.

Toronto's AAA park in Syracuse is a pitcher's park all the way. The park itself is only marginally a pitcher's park in its league, but the IL is a pitcher's league compared to the PCL.

I don't have breakdowns for average/doubles parks vs. home runs for the minor league parks... these park factors are based on three-year data, runs scored/allowed at home vs. the road, with a league factor added in.
_R Billie - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 11:06 AM EST (#73589) #
It would have been interesting to see how Lopez would have done had he spent the entire year in Syracuse with a coach willing to kick him in the rear from time to time. His limited AAA numbers in '02 were terrific for a player his age but then again his first month in the majors wasn't bad either (.303/.376/.566, 8 bb to 76 ab). His K-rate was still high and probably always will be. May was a big drop-off and June he improved to about Alex Gonzalez level (with more walks).

Then he lost his regular job and basically tanked the rest of the way. He hit well in Syracuse but still appeared to be only playing half speed in the field and not putting 100% into his at bats (in the rare occasions I got to watch Syracuse on television).

I think Lopez will hit in the majors; whether he hits like Miguel Tejada or more like Jose Valentin or Jose Hernandez remains to be seen. Unless someone completely turns his mental makeup around though then I'm concerned for him playing shortstop; but even as a 2B or 3B he can be productive in time.

Like many other young players in the previous 'maximum challenge for young players' regime, Lopez appears to have been promoted a bit too aggressively. If the Jays could have merged the best of Lopez with the best of Izturis then they would have had the superstar they were hoping for whereas it turns out they probably traded away a utility level player and a decent thirdbaseman.
Dave Till - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 12:13 PM EST (#73590) #
One problem Felipe Lopez faces is that there is no obvious place to play him. He's always been a little stretched at shortstop, as he doesn't have the sort of range that Izturis or Gonzalez displayed there. At second, he doesn't have (as far as I know) the ability to turn the double play well. (Hudson does have this - he's got much better footwork around the bag than Bush, and arguably better than Alomar.) And Lopez doesn't have much experience at third, so he isn't particularly good at handling smashes down the line or slow rollers. And, while he's a good hitter, I'm not sure he's going to be a good enough hitter to be productive at third or in the outfield.

As earlier posters have mentioned, Lopez could be the next Miguel Tejada, or the next Alex Gonzalez. He could also be the next Juan Samuel: a player with lots of obvious abilities, but also lots of weaknesses. It may be difficult to find a role for Lopez to play.
_dp - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 01:40 PM EST (#73591) #
"Toronto's AAA park in Syracuse is a pitcher's park all the way. The park itself is only marginally a pitcher's park in its league, but the IL is a pitcher's league compared to the PCL"

I don't think that's accurate- BP has the list of park factors, but I don't have my copy. MacArthur Stadium was huge- an extreme pitcher's park, and as a result, Bill James used to comment that it made Blue Jay minor leaguers have stats that would more closely resemble their ML ability. The new stadium, Corporate Whore Park, has the same dimensions as Skydome, but obviously minus the wacky air currents due to the dome.

And the obligatory dp comment on Lopez- he's way too young to make any solid judgements. Robert, your Tejada comparison was excellent and highlights the fact that any comments on Lopez being a "failed" prospect need to be reconsidered in light of his age relative to the age of other top prospects.
Craig B - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 02:02 PM EST (#73592) #
dp, my comments on the stadiums are based on three-year park factors which take into account only runs scored and allowed at home and on the road. They don't account for dimensions, etc., or for differences in average vs. home runs, etc.

The numbers I used are for P&C Stadium (which has been open since '96)... it is a more marginal pitchers' park than MacArthur was, but still a pitchers' park in a pitchers' league.
Dave Till - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 05:03 PM EST (#73593) #
By the way, Brandon Larson is almost guaranteed to suck. He's on my NL roto team, so he's doomed.
_Chuck Van Den C - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 06:00 PM EST (#73594) #
Dave Till: One problem Felipe Lopez faces is that there is no obvious place to play him. He's always been a little stretched at shortstop, as he doesn't have the sort of range that Izturis or Gonzalez displayed there.

I am not questioning this assertion, but want to pose a question. With the unprecedented quantity of hitting shortstops now in existence, could the stereotype of a shortstop be changing?

Perhaps teams, for good or for bad, are going to feel inclined to wedge a hitter into the lineup at SS, even if he's slightly stretched.

The Yankees and Red Sox are both doing this even if they don't publicly acknowledge it (or perhaps don't know?).

Paradoxically, two big shortstops, Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken, were both considered by many to be out of position at SS, despite statistical evidence (such as it was) to the contrary.

It wasn't that long ago that the preposterous belief that Rey Ordonez's glove could carry his bat was little questioned outside of stathead circles. Now few teams seem inclined to carry a sinkhole at shortstop except for organizations like the Devil Rays and Royals.

So, back to Lopez. What if he becomes a 750-800 OPS hitter? Would he get the SS job over a 600-650 OPS gloveman? Would he deserve it? Does the current wave of thinking favour Felipe over Gookie?
_Cesar Izturis - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 06:57 PM EST (#73595) #
Would he get the SS job over a 600-650 OPS gloveman?

Not in L.A., I hope.
_Marshall Mannin - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 09:00 PM EST (#73596) #
Great comments on Felipe, guys. I'm especially interested because I picked him up in 2001 for our normally "full-keeper" league and he's been on my roster ever since. Because of the extreme keeper aspect of our league, and the fact that some teams were behind in skills and knowledge when we started, we're doing a small redistribution draft this year, so we only get to keep 19 of our 25 players..the rest become draftable. So, my question is, in a league like this (we have no caps, and no limits on how long you can have a player), do you think it's worth holding onto Felipe? Or should I use his roster space for one of my numerous young pitchers (Lackey, Lawrence, Eaton, etc.) who might be more productive over the next couple of years?

Coach - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 09:19 PM EST (#73597) #
Marshall, the 2003 Lopez upside is, Larkin gets hurt and he takes over at SS, or "Dave's jinx" -- Larson disappoints, Boone returns to 3B and Felipe plays 2B. By 2004, he could be a regular, with big power numbers if he grows up physically and emotionally. At a low salary, or none, I would keep him one more year over Eaton, maybe Lackey, but not Lawrence.
robertdudek - Monday, February 03 2003 @ 10:53 PM EST (#73598) #
Given the fact that Felipe has the "tools" to be a successful major leaguer, the questions remaining are: will he 1) apply himself? 2) get enough playing time? 3) receive quality instruction? and 4) avoid injuries?

It appears that Tejada has gone 4 for 4, but as Coach might put it, the tea leaves don't seem to be swirling in Felipe's favour.

I think that projecting a player's future based on past (statistical) performance is a fun game, but given how important factors 1-4 can be, it's foolish to take it too seriously.
Craig B - Tuesday, February 04 2003 @ 02:25 PM EST (#73599) #
a 600-650 OPS gloveman? -- Not in L.A., I hope.

Cesar, you aren't even a 600 OPS guy in your dreams. :)

Izturis is really weird... his platoon split went haywire last year after two years of being better as a lefthanded batter, he suddenly hit lefties very well and couldn't hit RHP at all.

Is it possible that the Dodgers messed with his brain, getting him to overcompensate in working from the other side? I think it would be worth it to get him to rit righty all the time, or whatever he used to hit naturally, or where he's most comfortable.

I still think he might be able to hit a little, at least to raise his average into the .250s and get on base more. If he can get his OBP to .300, he should have a long career (at least) as a backup, given his silky-smooth defensive abilities.
Felipe Lopez, Star in Waiting? | 13 comments | Create New Account
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