The Royals have won their arbitration hearing over infielder Nicky Lopez, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (Twitter link). Lopez will earn $2.55MM in salary for the 2022 season, instead of the $2.95MM he was seeking in his first trip through the arb process.
Lopez has somewhat quietly established himself as an everyday player in Kansas City, despite the presence of other more heralded infielders in the Royals’ system. Adalberto Mondesi’s injury struggles opened the door for Lopez to get regular work in the Royals’ middle infield mix, and Lopez’s excellent glovework earned him a Gold Glove nomination as a second baseman in 2020.
This set the stage for a breakout season in 2021, as only 10 players in all of baseball had a higher fWAR than Lopez’s 6.0 mark last year. Much of that value came from defense, as over 1233 2/3 innings at shortstop, Lopez posted +24 Outs Above Average, +3 Defensive Runs Saved, and +4.6 UZR/150. He also had his best year at the plate in the majors, batting .300/.365/.378 (106 wRC+) with 78 runs scored and 22 steals in 23 chances.
Given that arbiters put more weight on standard counting stats than advanced metrics, Lopez’s lack of power and lack of a real offensive track record prior to 2021 probably contributed to the Royals’ victory in the hearing. The arbiter was also only regarding Lopez’s 2021 numbers, so the infielder’s big struggles this season (.214/.286/.251 in 209 PA) weren’t supposed to be a factor. Lopez’s top-flight speed helped him beat out many a grounder in 2021, but his .347 BABIP was a hint that regression was inevitable, as reflected by his .253 BABIP this season.
The Royals’ 2021-22 arbitration class is now finally settled, after the lockout pushed baseball’s arb business (and several hearings) deep into the season. Lopez was the second arb-eligible Royal who went to a hearing, and Andrew Benintendi earned a victory in his case last month.