KC Royals: Let's not lament the Nicky Lopez trade just yet

Do his flashy Atlanta numbers tell the complete story?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Many probably disliked the deal, but few should have been surprised when the KC Royals traded Nicky Lopez to Atlanta late last month. The feeling he wasn't long for Kansas City seemed increasingly palpable as the Aug. 1 trade deadline drew near — although he played frequently and his defense remained excellent, he simply wasn't showing signs of ever recapturing the form he had at the plate in 2021 when he became the only Royal shortstop to hit .300.

Don't get this writer wrong, though. This isn't an anti-Lopez piece; count me among his biggest fans, and I opined against trading him two weeks before the Royals shipped him to the Braves for reliever Taylor Hearn. Nor is it a knock on Hearn, although that could be coming soon considering he's given up seven runs in the 7.2 innings he's pitched for the Royals so far.

No, this story is one of caution, born not from thinking the Royals erred irreversibly when they moved Lopez, but instead of some scattered social media rumblings implying that Lopez is suddenly a better hitter with Kauffman Stadium in his rearview mirror.

The notion has some initial appeal. Although he served only as a late-inning defensive replacement as Atlanta clobbered Colorado 14-4 Monday night, he's slashing .361/.385/.472 with a double, homer and 10 RBIs for his new club. Those numbers are astonishingly different from his .213/.323/.281 Kansas City line; he also didn't homer this season for the Royals, and the 10 runs he's driven in for the Braves in 14 games are only three fewer than he knocked in for the Royals in 68.

But those numbers are also a bit deceiving.

It's too early to get too excited about the former KC Royals infielder's bat

A closer look at Lopez's Atlanta stats reveals why declaring him a changed hitter would be premature. On its face, the size of the sample is too small — a 14-game set (12 with at least one plate appearance) — doesn't prove much. What Lopez accomplishes the rest of the season under the wise and watchful eyes of long-time Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, himself an accomplished hitter during a big league career that included six campaigns with the Royals, will tell the real tale.

Then there's what underpins Lopez's Atlanta performance. Yes, he's a nifty 13-for-36 since joining the Braves, but his glittery numbers arise almost entirely from the second and fourth games he played for them. He went 4-for-6 with a double, homer, and five RBIs against the Mets Aug. 12, then 3-for-4 with another three RBIs two days later against the Yankees. Take those two contests out of the equation, and he'd be only 6-for-26 (.230) with just two RBIs.

More? Consider Lopez's two hits against the Giants Aug. 20 and another pair against the Mets Aug. 22, and you're left with this: 11 of his 13 hits came in four games, and he's gone hitless in seven of the 12 games in which he's had a plate appearance.

And the double and homer he hit in his second Atlanta game are the only extra-base hits he's managed after the trade.

All things considered, then, it's good to see Lopez having some success with the Braves, and good that he'll see playoff action for the first time (the Braves lead the National League East by 12.5 games). But take his present bat with a grain of salt. Only once in his five-season major league career has he hit really well over an entire campaign.

So, even Nicky Lopez fans like me shouldn't be telling Royals general manager J.J. Picollo "I told you so."

At least not yet.

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