#10: Javy Lopez

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Catcher
Seasons With Braves: 1992-2003
Stats With Braves: .287/.337/.502, 214 HR, 694 RBI, 508 RS

Javy Lopez.jpgAnother one of my favorite players. It’s been questioned why Javy ranks ahead of Joe Torre, and Torre’s statistics are in fact better than Javy’s overall while his number of plate appearances isn’t much lower. I probably discounted the Milwaukee years a little, subconsciously, but the real reasons are:

1. Javy played in fifteen postseason series in nine years; Torre never played in postseason — not with the Braves or Cardinals, and certainly not with the Mets. This is not his fault but it’s something I take into account.
2. Torre played a lot of games at first base, while Javy was exclusively a catcher.
3. Javy’s best year is better than Torre’s best year with the Braves.

Javy Lopez was signed as a free agent in 1987. His early seasons are nondescript, but he broke out in Greenville in 1992, hitting .321/.362/.507 and establishing himself as a top prospect. I recall that in 1993 I was able to suffer through Damon Berryhill’s utter collapse as a useful player by thinking to myself that Lopez would be up soon. Javy was actually called up briefly in 1992 and 1993 and wound up behind Bobby’s “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” third catcher box in postseason; he actually got one AB in the 1992 NLCS and was on deck when Sid slid.

In 1994 he was handed the job in spring training, to be backed up by Charlie O’Brien. He got off to a hot start but then two things happened: he fell into a terrible slump in late May, and Greg Maddux took a dislike to him. At the “end” of that season, he was hitting .245/.299/.419.

The Braves stuck by him (with O’Brien becoming Personal Catcher No. 1) and were rewarded in 1995 with a .315/.344/.498 season. He tore it up in the NLDS and NLCS, though he didn’t do much in the World Series. In 1996 he fell off a little, though his numbers (.282/.322/.466) are still very good for a catcher. Again, he played well in the NL playoffs, winning the NLCS MVP, but didn’t hit in the World Series.

In 1997, Lopez made his first All-Star appearance, hitting .295/.361/.534. He had a terrible NLCS, plus the Braves were even letting Eddie Perez (PC No. 2) catch Maddux in postseason now. In 1998, Javy made the All-Star team again, hitting .284/.328/.540 with 31 homers and 106 RBI, and played well in postseason. He got off to a tremendous start in 1999, then started getting hurt, then was shut down in July with a knee injury.

I had remembered him not playing well in the seasons after the knee injury, but his 2000 numbers (.287/.337/.484) are close to what came before. It was in 2001 that he fell apart (.267/.322/.425) but the Braves didn’t have any other options and signed him to a free agent contract anyway. He was just awful in 2002 (.233/.299/.372).

Suddenly, at the age of 32 and after three years of decline, Javy had the best year of his career. I will not speculate why and encourage you not to either. He hit 43 homers, a team record for a catcher, and .328/.378/.687 overall. For the first time since 1998 he made the All-Star team, and finished fifth in the MVP voting, which I actually think is low. He signed a free-agent deal with the Orioles and had a couple of decent years, then had a problem campaign last year in which after the Red Sox traded for him the entire population of New England decided to blame him for the team missing the postseason.

You may not think it, but Javy has Hall of Fame statistics. His three most-similar players through age 35 are Fisk, Hartnett, and Campanella (it was Campy’s last year). If he can bounce back from his lost season, it seems likely that Javy will finish with over 300 homers (he has 260). He won’t make the Hall of Fame, and I don’t really think I can make a case, but I thought I would point it out.

Javy Lopez Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

36 thoughts on “#10: Javy Lopez”

  1. I too liked Javy. My wife likes him also and she is not even interested in baseball.
    I have my doubts that he will bounce back. He looked about done with the BOSOX.

  2. Mac, you are probably right. Javy won’t get into the HOF but he has accumulated some impressive statistics. He was a terrific player for the Braves. This is a good spot for him in the rankings.

    We’ve had a string of good catchers. Estrada, so villified here on this blog was an above average player for us. I hope that McCann stays healthy. I am not convinced that he is a .330 hitter year after year but he is going to be special if he can stay on the field.

  3. I love Javy…except only when I couldn’t stand a minute of him in 2002 as Mac mentioned. One thing I love about Javy is that he doesn’t strike out very often, and he is a pretty smart hitter.

  4. First of all, MAC, this has been a great presentation. When you announced this, I sat down and wrote down my Top 20 Braves, we agree on 9 of the top 10 players, JAVY is the one player we don’t agree upon. I had Javy 12 and Torre at 8, but I can see your argument. I remember being pissed when his highness Maddux wouldn’t let JAVY catch, and boy did we miss his bat in the line-up. Nice player and as a stretch I can see the HOF argument. I still like Torre more,but there isn’t much difference.

  5. Ive written my Javy story on here and I am the reason he hit all those home runs. Bastard cost me $50! So my bad luck and his taking HGH were the reasons he had a huge year. I vote we call all monster contract years “Javy Lopez Years.”

  6. Aren’t his 42 home runs in 2003 (one came as a pinch hitter, I think) not only a team record, but a Major League record for a catcher? I think Todd Hundley held the record before Lopez, and Campanella before Hundley.

  7. I think you could also make a case that Javy’s performance in 2003 was one of the greatest contract-year performances ever. Hell, he almost doubled his OPS.

    I’m not going to speculate why he did that OUT LOUD, but I think you know what I’m thinking.

  8. At the time, Javy credited changing his workout regimen to one that stressed enhanced flexibility, along with a determination to lose weight, for his increased production.

    There was visual evidence to support this. Javy didn’t bulk up in 2003, he slimmed down. And his swing that year was a thing of beauty — he wasn’t taking muscular hacks. That was never his style, anyway. Javy always depended on his torso and shoulders to supply power to his dead-pull swing, and you could see how fluidly he was turning through the swing that year. I choose to believe his explanation, because it jibed with what I saw with my own eyes.

  9. One of the best things about having McCann develop is that it makes it easier to accept Lopez’s departure; I hated to see Javy go.

    Lopez was frequently regarded as the strongest Brave–his power was frequently on display during batting practice. Therefore, I agree with sansho1 that Javy’s explanation remains credible.

    It is a pity that he was not a more consistent performer, but Javy Lopez would not be the first catcher to have some dramatic oscillations in his power numbers.

    I would love to see him rebound and hit 300 HR, but that is asking alot….

  10. off topic….

    I hate the Big 12…they are getting in between me and my Hokies….I don’t care about Oklahoma and Texas A&M!!!!!!

  11. Good spot for Javy. I always liked him as well

    Off topic: I saw ‘Borat’ last night and cannot recommended it highly enough. I was in physical pain from laughing so hard as was most of the audience. Cohen is a genius. I’ve never been one to see a movie twice in the theaters but I may break my rule for this one.

  12. Javy is one of my favorite Braves. As I mentioned in the Torre thread, I think Brave fans just don’t appreciate what we had in javy – it was easy for him to not get proper notice given all the superstars around him. But getting a .500 SLG from your catcher is something special. And when he was on I loved his swing.

    The Maddux thing will hopefully one day have its explanation, but I’m not holding my breath. During the season I could see it having the benefit of giving javy needed rest. But in the postseason that left us with two scenarios, neither good – either Javy catching Maddux after hardly doing so all year, or Eddie Perez et al. starting. of course, Eddie has a career postseason BA of .299, so maybe it didn’t hurt all that much *shrug*

  13. Joining in to say Javy is one of my favorite Braves. Glad to see he’s high on the list of others too.

    I too never understood the Maddux thing. What was the “offical” explanation that was given at the time?

  14. Javy Lopez has the “Tim Raines” problem, I think (although he’s obviously not as good as Raines). Raines was probably the second-best leadoff man of all time, but he was perennially underrated because he was an exact contemporary of not only the greatest leadoff man of all time (Rickey Henderson), but also Paul Molitor and Wade Boggs, who are probably top-5. Javy is one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time, but he had the misfortune of being an exact contemporary of Mike Piazza, who was and is a much better hitter than he is, but also Pudge Rodriguez, who was a much better fielder and also occasionally a better hitter.

  15. Jay10–I know what you mean about the Big 12: out here in the Emirates the only game FSN showed was Texas Tech and Baylor. What is worse is watching Tech already leading by 31 points add a field goal with 4 minutes to play, make late hits and then try to make it 62-21 in the last minute. I hope they get creamed down the line. Sorry to whine…

  16. Well, there are lots of ways to break a window. But having Andy Bailey try to kick a football through it is not one of them.

  17. saw borat as well. let me tell you, if you are thin-skinned individual (which i am not), then i would not recommend the movie. i thought it was hysterical and i too might go see it twice. it was great success.

  18. Okay, let me get this straight. Maddux is considered one of the smartest pitchers ever, but didn’t want Javy calling his games. But Maddux could have a Hall of Fame career with Eddie Perez and O’Brien and a cast of thousands. I don’t think Maddux was the problem.
    What I’ll remember about Lopez is that we constantly worried if he was hurt or healing and that I had to explain to my teenage daughters why he grabbed his cup when he wanted to urge a young pitcher to reach back for something extra.
    You can have him.

  19. It’s not unusual, to say the least, that a catcher would be dealing with injuries pretty frequently. That sort of goes with the territory. And I always thought that was a fist pump.

  20. Javy was awsome. I remember someone did wrote something up (maybe it was here?) looking at which franchise produced (or employed) the best players from each position. The Braves were right up there with Cs and CFs, and this was before BMac had even had a ML AB.

  21. Damn…..I suck bad at fantasy!!!…hahaha

    I’m 2-7 so far in College Pick em’…I did so great in week 1 and it’s been downhill since then.

  22. Finally the hokie game is starting :)

    Techmen, we’re Techmen, with spirit true and faithful,
    Backing up our team with hopes undying;
    Techmen, Oh, Techmen, we’re out to win today,
    Showing “pep” and life with which we’re trying;
    V. P., old V. P. You know our hearts are with you,
    In our luck which never seems to die;
    Win or lose we’ll greet you with a glad returning,
    You’re the pride of V. P. I.

    Just watch our men so big and active,
    Support the Orange and Maroon,
    Let’s go, Techs! We know our ends and backs are stronger,
    With winning hopes, we fear defeat no longer,
    To see our team plow through the line, boys,
    Determined now to win or die;
    So give a Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi!
    Rae, Ri, old V. P. I.

    Fight men, Oh, fight men! we’re going to be champions,
    Adding to our list another vict’ry;
    Football or baseball, the games in which we star,
    They’re the sports that made old V. P. famous.
    Hold them, just hold them! Your know the corps’ behind you,
    Watching ev’ry movement that you make;
    Winning games was nothing for our teams before us,
    Keep the “rep” for V. P’s. sake.

    “VPI Victory March”

    You have seen the Hoyas tumble,
    You have made the Indians cry,
    And you know the Army mule
    Once took a kick at V. P. I.
    Worthy teams from Lexington
    Have fought with all their might;
    But now it’s time to show the world
    That VPI can fight.

    GO, TECH!
    GO, TECH!
    H! O! K! I! E! S!

    Clear the way, so that team from Tech
    Can roll to Victory!
    No foe can stand the test,
    So fight your best, and we will do the rest.
    Strength and speed keep you in the lead;
    You’ll never go astray.
    Our banner high shall ever fly
    For victory is ours today.

  23. The window isn’t what needs the brick—try the offensive coaches…if that doesn’t work, try the head case, I mean coach. The biggest problem Bama has is that Shula doesn’t think there’s a problem. Sad.

    Bring back Ears Whitworth!

  24. Best Javy Lopez memory: On my first visit to Fenway Park in 1999, with the Braves down a run in the 9th, Javy hit a 2-out, 2-run double off Tom Gordon to beat the Red Sox. Rocker closed it out & Maddux won the next day. A fine trip to Beantown.

  25. Okay, let me get this straight. Maddux is considered one of the smartest pitchers ever, but didn’t want Javy calling his games. But Maddux could have a Hall of Fame career with Eddie Perez and O’Brien and a cast of thousands. I don’t think Maddux was the problem.

    Maddux had one of his best seasons of his career, 1994, with Javy catching him.

  26. If Maddux wants Jay Leno catching him, that is fine with me. I can’t see the complaints about a guy who is one of the two best pitchers since WW II. Javy was pretty good, but Maddux was much, much better.

  27. Admission 1: I am totally in the bag for Joe Torre.

    But still, I think Joe’s slightly better/higher. There’s little difference between their defense, actually very similar styles.

    But I wouldn’t punish Joe for playing some first, I would reward him. Joe’s bat was valuable enough to let him play first instead of rest, is the way I would spin it.

  28. Maybe. But Javy played a lot with guys like McGriff and Galarraga, while the Braves didn’t have a first baseman in Torre’s time there. Alou was the most normal first baseman but he was spending half his time in the outfield. Also, teams usually carried three catchers then, or even four; today they usually have only two, so you’re much less likely to have your catcher playing elsewhere on his days off.

    At any rate, except in 1964 Torre didn’t really pick up a lot of extra PA by playing first. Admittedly, the seasons are longer now, but his career high in games behind the plate was 114. Javy beat that six times in Atlanta.

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