Free agent watch: Javier Lopez


Javier Lopez | 2011 salary: $2.38 million

After being acquired by San Francisco midway through the 2010 season, Lopez was dominant for the Giants, allowing just three earned runs, 11 hits, and two walks in 19 innings following the trade. Then, after allowing one earned run in 5.2 postseason innings, the eventual World Series Champion Giants opted to bring Lopez back for another season.

While not as dominant as his first stint with the team, Lopez certainly had a successful 2011 campaign, going 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 70 games. He allowed 42 hits and 16 earned runs in 53 innings — marking the third time in four years that he has eclipsed the 50-inning plateau — and, after setting a new career-low 3.36 FIP last season, he actually improved on that figure with a 3.16 FIP this season.

Lopez was great with inherited runners, as only six of 43 (14%) managed to score. Not only were there seven occasions where he stranded two inherited runners and two instances where he stranded the bases loaded, but Lopez stranded all 26 of the runners he inherited from June to September.

His 62.6% ground ball rate marked his second consecutive season where he’s eclipsed the 60% mark, and added to his 22% fly ball rate, those figures would play well in Rogers Centre. Lopez has thrown first-pitch strikes at least 65% of the time in each of the last two seasons — well above anything he put up in the first seven years of his career — and his 10.7 swinging-strike percentage in 2011 was a new career-high as well.

Pitch-wise, Lopez introduced a cut-fastball this year after sticking to a fastball-slider-changeup, three-pitch repertoire from 2006-2010. The cutter worked wonders for him this season, especially against lefties, to the point where he actually threw all three of his other pitches much less than he did in 2010.

The primary drawback with Lopez would be his walk rate. Though 17 of the 26 walks he issued this past season came against right-handed hitters, his platoon splits have been better than a guy like Perez, as Lopez managed a 1.93 ERA/2.31 FIP against left-handers and a 3.60 ERA/4.11 FIP against right-handers this past season. Not only were those numbers against righties well below Lopez’s career figures, but they rank as some of, if not the best out of the crop of free agent left-handed relievers.

Given his strong numbers over the last two years as well as his ground ball and fly ball rates, Lopez could be an interesting option for Anthopoulos to pursue this offseason. He would command a fairly low salary and projects to rank as a Type-B free agent, so he wouldn’t cost the Jays anything in terms of draft pick compensation.