If you haven’t noticed, Nicky Lopez is on fire right now. In his last 5 games, Lopez is hitting a sound .478 with 4 runs scored, a double, triple, 3 RBI, a walk, 2 Ks, and 2 SB. If you go back even farther, Lopez is hitting .455 over his 10 games. Move it back to 16 which was coming out of a short slump, and Lopez is at .433 with more walks than strikeouts. Over the last month he is hitting .340. On the season he’s hitting .326.
Over the first month of the season there were some concerns about his offense. Lopez had started slow. In the first 19 games of 2018, Lopez hit .214. He was still getting on base though, walking 12 times during his slump, which is a great quality to have. Being able to bunt effectively should help combat extended slumps for him as well.
Nicky has hit so much that lately that he was moved to the 3-hole in the lineup. Since moving to the 3-hole on May 5, Lopez is 18-41 which comes out to a batting average of .439. He hasn’t hit for much power but he is always on base with an on-base percentage of .489 over that time. Lopez isn’t the ideal 3-hole hitter as he doesn’t historically have a lot of thump with a slugging percentage of .393 and just 8 home runs over his pro career. Lopez would probably be more of a traditional two hole hitter as he can bunt, doesn’t strike out, makes good contact, can run, and walks often. If you don’t like the traditional use of the two hole you could also use him in the leadoff spot. Depends on your preferences and belief in analytics departments and their projected optimal lineups.
One other thing to mention is that Lopez is hitting over .300 against both RHPs and LHPs this season. Of course with him hitting over .400 recently he is going to have an elevated BABIP. Over the last five games it is .524. Over the last 16 games it is .475. On the season it is .365. The BABIP has been fairly consistent from his slump to current which suggests to me that it isn’t luck that he is getting on base so much but that he is actually coming up with clean hits.
If you take a look at Lopez’ spray charts below, he grounds out to the right side a lot and flies out to the left side a lot. Most of his hits have been to RF. But you’ll notice that when he hits the ball to RF it is almost always a hit. There are no dark green dots on the right side of the field. If Lopez pulls the ball, it is going to be a hard hit ball. If he goes the other way, it is most likely more of a fly ball than a line drive.
Defensively you can’t move to a full lefty shift on him as he still hits too many balls on the ground to the left side and he can bunt effectively. You might not even consider the need to shift because he isn’t a power hitter. However, you could shift your OF around and possibly take away some of his singles to RF by pinching the line and shortening up your RF. But you have to make sure you stay on the LF line as well and can probably move your CF more to the LCF gap. Lopez doesn’t hit it over people’s heads enough to combat this defensive shift if you want to go that route.
Lopez probably has some adjustments to make as the Texas League makes adjustments to him. Most minor league teams don’t shift but you’ll see it occasionally. Most teams will probably try pitching him differently and move their outfielders slightly. Teams play each other so much in the Texas League that it’ll be interesting to see how teams try to defend against Lopez using defensive movements and different pitching sequences. It is unlikely that Lopez can hit .400+ the rest of the year but it would be awesome. Lopez should get a chance to hit against AAA pitchers in Omaha sometime soon.