Grading the 2022 KC Royals: Infielder Nicky Lopez

(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports) /

For KC Royals infielder Nicky Lopez, 2021 was a full season in the big leagues only because Adalberto Mondesi’s series of injuries, the first of which occurred late in spring training and rescued Lopez from the demotion to Omaha he’d just received, assured his presence on the roster for the entire campaign.

What Lopez did with the opportunity Mondesi’s misfortune provided was, and remains, nothing short of remarkable for a player who began 2021 carrying a conspicuously poor .228 major league average, an ugly statistic punctuated by the .201 he hit the season before.

Unforgettable about his third year in the big leagues was his entire body of work. Lopez exceeded his best batting average, the .240 he hit as a rookie in 2019, by 60 points, and so became the club’s first shortstop to hit .300. And despite an elite defensive season, he wasn’t even nominated for a Gold Glove.

What 2022 held in store for him became clear Opening Day when Mondesi returned to shortstop and rookie Bobby Witt Jr. started at third, making Lopez once again the Royals’ second baseman. But things soon changed when another Mondesi injury, this time an ACL torn in late April, triggered an infield carousel of sorts, with Lopez and Witt moving back and forth between short and third while Whit Merrifield moved back to second before Michael Massey took over the position in August.

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Whether bouncing around the infield significantly impacted Lopez’s play may never be known. But it certainly could have factored into his disappointing year.

Nicky Lopez didn’t have a second straight good season for the KC Royals.

Lopez was hitting .283 when Mondesi suffered his knee injury but, at least at the plate, went downhill from there—looking much like the batter he’d been in 2019 and 2020, he hit .221 the rest of the way and finished the season at .227. His final .272 OBP paled in comparison to the stellar .365 he posted the year before.

And because he saw the basepaths less frequently, he stole nine fewer bases (13) than he did in 2021.

Fortunately, Lopez’s defense remained decent. Although his glove wasn’t as outstanding as it was in his first three seasons, his fielding percentages—.989 in 68 games at second, .982 in 52 at short, and 1.000 in 30 at third, were all above league average.

How, then, to grade Lopez’s 2022 campaign? Not knowing the precise effect, if any, bouncing between three positions had on his performance, and considering the Royals called upon him for more than they did the season before, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt with a C+.

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Nicky Lopez wasn’t as good in 2022 as he was in 2021.