Lopez 3b, Figgins 2b

Q.  Lopez hasn't played 3b in the majors to speak of, and is a very solid second baseman statistically.  Figgins has great numbers at 3b the last two years, and what little time he's had at 2b, his numbers are lousy.

Why would a sabermetric organization want to make this flip?


A.  Because the Mariners aren't a sabermetric organization in the way that we assume they are.  Their decisionmaking is not dominated by $/RAR ratio -- check, for instance, the Morrow-League trade, the Wilson-Clement trade, and the Lee trade. 

Numbers aside:


Jose Lopez is a natural third baseman.

1.  If the 30 starting second basemen ran a shuttle race, Jose would without a doubt finish #30.  As Baker reports, last year Jose finished behind Carlos Silva...

2.  Jose has the classic big-infielder's physical attributes:  poor footspeed (compared to Pokey Reese), superb hand-eye coordination, and a powerful arm.  Jose's arm would be fine at SS, never mind 3b.


Chone Figgins is a natural second baseman.

1.  If the 30 starting second baseman ran a shuttle race, Figgins might win the race.

2.  He's 5-8.

3.  His quickness is, in part, wasted at third base where he is, after all, playing in on the grass relative to 2b.

4.  Though his UZR numbers have been superb in 2008-09, they were questionable at 3B in 2006-07.  It is certainly possible that Figgins simply improved astronomically, but very few infielders improve that much.  More likely IMHO is that the numbers are simply less than reliable.


As you know, we take defensive metrics seriously, but it is quite possible that Lopez is benefitting from some kind of park/context illusion, and the same is possible with respect to Figgins the last two years.

The (recent) numbers say:

  • Figgins = outstanding 3b, dubious 2b
  • Lopez = average-solid 2b, not a 3b at all

SSI suspects that the real situation is:

  • Figgins = above-average 3b, above-average 2b
  • Lopez = mediocre or below-average 2b, above-average 3b

So the Mariners investigate switch, obviously deploying intuition and tools scouting in contradiction of what the numbers might say if employed dogmatically.

Bravo to them.  It's one more illustration of the way that Grandmaster Zduriencik's understanding of baseball transcends that of ours on the 'net.


Q.  Ramifications?

A.  Though Dustin Ackley is supposed to get a lot of AB's in March, I would take this as a strong sign that Ackley has no chance to play in Safeco this year.

Which would make sense.  He hasn't played 2B at all.  It's going to be plenty stressful enough just having him play it at the PCL level.  Even Dr. D, by no means risk-averse, would have Ackley playing a year at second before adding that pressure to everything else in the majors.



Lakay's picture

" As Baker reports, last year Jose finished behind Carlos Silva..."
Is this tongue in cheek Doc? Lopez is slow but not that slow. Baker wrote that and in the same article corrected it later. IMO, I thought he wrote that piece in a very poor lierature style, as many readers could be misled.
"Wait, what's that? It wasn't Lopez who got smoked by Silva? It was Felix Hernandez? Lopez merely got waxed by Adrian Beltre, Mike Morse and company? Well, that changes everything. Wrong Venezuelan. Forget what I said, Lopey. I'm not sorry. ..."
But back to the main point. Many just consider Chone's UZR or defensive stats at 3rd the last couple of years and ignore completely stats pre-2008. Yet when they "judge" Chone as a 2B, they consider his defensive metrics way, way back. What I am saying is, assuming he did improve defensively the last couple of years, we don't know if the improvement of Chone at 3B could be translated to 2B, but I am sure glad the org is willing to try to find it as early as now.

M.Twain's picture

It's a pretty obvious move and if it "feels right" in ST, you go with it. I imagine that, by the end of his contract, Figgins will look a lot more like Mark McLemore anyway, so changing positions on an annual basis shouldn't bother him to much. And, I still can't help but wonder if he'll be the #2 SS this year...


Re Lopez: http://www.mynorthwest.com/?nid=374&sid=288305
She gets to the personal side that the other beat media don't always get.  "I don't want to play mad, I want to play happy."
Also reminds about the deaths in his family that we all tend to forget.
And he has a goal of 50 walks (career high 27).
Z does have a pretty big buy-in on the "relaxed and happy" concept -- that's part of the Kotchman plan, too, you know.

M.Twain's picture

I've probably read more than 100 different opinions/analyses/comments about why Lopez is no good/overrated this off season. SABR is quite good for illustrating who Lopez HAS BEEN, but people nearly always portray Lopez' stats as if they represent who he IS. Certainly, Lopez has lacked plate discipline, but the walks quote demonstrates that he's at least aware of this shortcoming. I wonder if that will translate into a more productive Jose Lopez. Given his age/experience and the nature of the problem, I have to believe there's a reasonably good chance of that. We'll see...

Taro's picture

I'm not a fan of this if its permanant. If its to increase versatility than Ok..
Mostly its because I'm one of the believers in Figgins' improving D at 3B, and don't want to switch him to a position where hes less effective and more likely to re-injure his hamstring..
There are some quotes I'd need to search for about Figgins improving his defensive technique at 3B over the past two years, but I believe his defensive improvement to be absolutely legitimate and its not just because of his UZR.
Lopez, on the other hand, might gain a little moving to 3B. I just do not believe its worth the tradeoff of moving Figgins in the short-term for no/negative defensive gain and simultaneously hurting Lopez' trade value.


Didn't read Baker's correction.
As you know, JLo is one of my fave players -- have had his back since before he was a major leaguer.
But if you've been watching JLo the last 5 years, and you haven't formed your own opinion of JLo's first three steps by now... :- )
Just to pick one 'objective' point out of a hat, Raul Ibanez' speed scores well exceed Jose Lopez'.  Raul have the quickness for 2B?
:shrugs: I'm not saying Lopez can't play 2B.  He can.  But he's a natural 3B.


At McLemore's age, he could handle the burden of flexing positions.  Figgins is past 30 now.  It's not unreasonable to ask him to bounce around the diamond, IMHO.


is a bedrock principle of sports psychology...
An angry man walks onto the court visualizing unfortunate things... you cannot make something happen that you are not visualizing...


create an ever-improving pitch recognition ... whether by design or not, older players walk more just because the game slows down...


If Figgins is a Gold Glove third baseman, you leave him there.  :daps:

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