In the last post, I commented on just how bad by historical standards the current free agent market is. Excluding the collusion years, I can’t remember a worse year to be a free agent, at least in terms of what players have received in the immediately preceding few off-seasons. Of course, in the early years of free agency, players’ salaries were so depressed after 100 years of the reserve clause that even in the worst of economic times (the steep 1982-1983 recession), free agents still seemed to do great.
Anyway, I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com today regarding the fact that there are a lot of free agent 2Bmen waiting to be signed and that the market seems to hinging on the contract Orlando Hudson receives, as the conventional wisdom’s best 2Bman remaining. However, the post also mentioned that Felipe Lopez had the highest OPS last year of the unsigned 2Bmen, including an astounding .383 on-base percentage.
Felipe Lopez is one of those players who has slipped under my radar, and, I suspect, most of the general managers in baseball. I knew he was a starting middle infielder for the Reds for a few years and hit fairly well for middle infielder. However, the Reds were bad, and Cincinnati has traditionally been a good place to hit, so I considered him kind of like Ronnie Belliard: a good, but by no means great player, who you might be able to use to fill a hole cheaply, but who is by no means the kind of player you look to to be one of your star players, at least not if you have serious post-season hopes.
However, while I wasn’t looking, Lopez really had a terrific season in 2009. A 2Bman with a .383 OBP in 680 plate appearances is a great player, at least if he gives you average defense. In 2009, Lopez was better than that. According to fangraphs and their UZR/150 ratings, he was the 6th best defensive starting 2Bman in MLB last year. By way of comparison, Orlando Hudson ranked 14th.
Among the raw statistics, the number that jumped out at me was that Lopez was involved in 25 more double plays than Hudson in 2009, in slightly fewer innings at the position.
This was by far the best offensive year of Lopez’s career, and at age 30 in 2010, you’d have to bet that he won’t be as good with the bat in 2010. Also, it’s almost impossible to predict what he’ll do with glove in 2010, because he was a bad defensive shortstop for the Reds according to UZR/150, and wasn’t particularly good in his first year as a 2Bman in 2008. On the other hand, it could be that second base has been his true position all along.
Even with these concerns, the odds are about 50-50 that Lopez will be as good or better than Hudson in 2010. Hudson has been a much better offensive over the course of his career, but Hudson is also two years older. The difference between age 30 and age 32 in major league baseball is much greater than it sounds.
Also, while Hudson has more power than Lopez, Hudson’s career .348 OBP isn’t much better than Lopez’s career .338. Both run well, although Lopez has actually stolen considerably more bases in his career than Hudson (115 to 50), although Hudson’s success rate has been higher (72.5% to 67.6%).
In short, if Hudson’s contract fixes the price for the remaining free agent 2Bmen and Lopez thus signs for a little less than what Hudson gets, the team signing Lopez has made the better deal.