Nicky Lopez is an interesting player for the KC Royals. Fans clamored to have him called up back in 2019, and he played decently when he was, slashing .240/.276/.325 with a .601 OPS in 103 games. In the shortened 2020 season, however, Lopez struggled mightily and finished with a .201 average. Many fans criticized his play and wondered if he was the true future at second base.
A poor spring training performance (.118/.231/.147 with 13 strikeouts in 34 at-bats) reinforced those concerns and some became increasingly impatient with the 26-year-old.
Recently, though, Lopez has silenced his doubters, slashing .372/.449/.395 in his last 15 games with six walks, six runs, and two stolen bases. And through Thursday, his slash is a career-best .260/.352/.326 with a .678 OPS, and he has 12 RBIs, 24 walks, and three triples.
With Adalberto Mondesi on the 10-day injured list again with another oblique strain, KC Royals fans may be disappointed he’s out of the lineup, and doubt Lopez’s skills in place of him. However, Lopez has proven to be a viable replacement for Mondesi at shortstop due to some changes in his game.
Lopez has made some notable changes to his approach for the KC Royals.
What caused Nicky Lopez to stand out in the last month are significant changes he’s made from swinging for the fences to simply finding ways to get on base. For example, his P/PA increased from 2020’s 3.901 to 3.981 and his BABIP shot up from last season’s .260 to .305. Lopez also recorded nine extra base hits, which ties his mark from last year.
According to FanGraphs, Lopez’s K% decreased from 21.4 in 2020 to 13.7. His BB% increased from 9.4 to 11.8. The improvements are probably most attributable to changes he suggested to mlb.com KC beat writer Anne Rogers he was making in the spring, altering his approach from forcing himself to be a power hitter to what he truly is—a small ball type player, something he needed to “get back to…”
"“Put the ball in play, play small ball. I’m going to be batting low in the order, I know that, so any way to get on, any way to move a runner so that they’re in scoring position…”"
“That’s what I need to do,” he added. “Slowly but surely getting back to that.”
Lopez stayed true to his commitment from spring training, continually putting the ball in play to keep the line moving. His OBP has increased from .286 to .352, placing him well-above the major league average of .313.
Of course, his defense remains phenomenal. Through Thursday, Lopez has a better than league average .980 fielding percentage in 62 games at shortstop in place of Mondesi, and a 1.000% in four games at second base. He’s only recorded four errors on the year, and has made great plays like these:
Though Lopez may not be a power hitter like Mondesi, he’s certainly proved his worth as an everyday starter for the Royals.
Nicky Lopez may not hit for power, but he keeps the line moving as the KC Royals’ No. 9 hitter.