Right now, Manny Acta‘s typical lineup card features Jack Hannahan at third base and Lonnie Chisenhall at designated hitter. That’s fine for now, but it won’t last once Travis Hafner comes back; Hannahan and Chisenhall can coexist in the starting lineup only because Pronk isn’t there to DH. Once Hafner returns, Acta will have to make a decision about who will be the everyday man at the hot corner.
However, the debate has not been limited to just those two candidates. In Wednesday’s cleveland.com comment of the day, reader Big M advocated for someone else to be the Tribe’s starting third baseman: Jose Lopez. The idea of letting Lopez usurp Hannahan and Chisenhall belies a gross overestimation of Lopez’ abilities—a sentiment that seems to be common among Tribe fans this year.
But armchair analysts aren’t the only ones enamored with his play. Manny Acta himself seems to be Lopez’ biggest fan. He’s the go-to guy whenever an infielder needs a day off or there’s an opening at DH. He’s Acta’s preferred right-handed bat off the bench despite the presence of Shelley Duncan, and Acta thinks enough of him that he often hits as high as cleanup when he’s in the lineup. But why?
Take a look at the numbers. Jose Lopez is batting .230—not an auspicious start. What’s worse, thanks to his poor plate discipline (he’s drawn only six walks in 143 plate appearances) he’s getting on base at a miserable .259 clip. He hasn’t impressed on the field or on the basepaths, and his solid power (.156 ISO) doesn’t make up for his other deficiencies.
Anecdotally many fans might remember some of Lopez’ big hits this year, but with a 72 wRC+ to his name he has been actually 28 percent worse than a league-average MLB batter—so the idea that he holds his own at the plate is false, let alone thinking of him as a good hitter. And at -0.2 fWAR, Lopez’ production has actually been worse than what a team would expect to get from an average player in Triple-A.
How does Lopez compare to the Tribe’s other third-base options? Take a look. Here are his numbers against Jack Hannahan’s:
And against Lonnie Chisenhall’s:
Both of them blow Lopez out of the water. One could make the argument that Lopez is still the best option against left-handed pitchers (personally I’d prefer to keep Hannahan’s glove in the lineup), but the perception that Lopez is the best hitter at the hot corner is clearly false.
How about at first base? Here’s how he holds up against Casey Kotchman:
Their bats have been essentially equal in value, yet most fans seem to think of Kotchman as an automatic out while Lopez hits in the middle of the order. (The idea that Lopez is the better option against southpaw pitchers has more merit here than at third, but again one must consider the difference between Kotchman’s defense and Lopez’.)
Okay, but Shelley Duncan just cannot get anything going at the plate. Lopez has to be a better option of the bench than him, right?
Well, based off this year’s numbers, yes—but not by much. Looking at these very similar statlines it’s baffling that Acta so prefers Lopez to Duncan. Especially since Duncan has a much better track record and will almost assuredly be a better hitter going forward.
Just to show how wrong popular perceptions are, look at this comparison between Lopez and another right-handed mystery Indians player:
The mystery man is ahead in every category and leads him by more than 20 points of wRC+—I think it’s safe to say that the bottom row beats the top. Were this a game show, I’d now open the door and show you…Matt LaPorta from 2011. A player who lost his job at the end of last year—the team has so soured on him that he hasn’t gotten a real chance in 2012 despite the obvious need—handily outhit a common face in the middle of the Tribe’s current lineup.
This isn’t mean to be an attack on Lopez, and while there are better uses for his roster spot I’m not suggesting that he has no value to the Indians. Quite the contrary—his versatility and right-handedness are real assets. But there’s no real justification for the idea that he is one of the team’s best hitters or Acta’s eagerness to play him as much as possible.