Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Problem of James Loney

There have been low power first basemen before. Mark Grace and Bill Buckner come to mind. But the thing about those guys is that they consistently hit above .300 and were pretty good run producers. James Loney was projected to be like those guys but it hasn't worked out that way. Loney's OPS+ the last three years have been: 103, 103, 99. While those numbers are pretty good for a second baseman or a shortstop, they are below par for a first baseman.

Fangraphs lists Loney as the 19th most valuable first baseman (with enough qualifying plate appearances) in baseball for 2010. The only first baseman behind him were, Carlos Pena; Michael Cuddyer, Ty Wigginton, Garrett Jones and Jorge Cantu. Not exactly ringing company. Fangraphs pegged his 2010 value at $4.2 million. Loney made $3.1 million, so at least the Dodgers didn't over pay for his services. But that will no longer be the case once Loney goes up the arbitration ladder.

Loney is only 26 years old and he still hasn't reached his prime as a player. But if you look at the four full seasons he has played, he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. At some point, the question has to be asked if this is all he is capable of producing. Add to that picture is his minor league numbers which don't vary greatly from where he is now. So, again, you have to ask if he has shown that this is the player he is and any expectation for more is setting one's hopes up too high.

There is a myth that has been created that Loney is a clutch player. The numbers don't bear that out. Over his career, his OPS is 20 points lower than his career average with two outs and runners in scoring position. He OPS is 60 points lower in late and close games and his OPS is about 30 points higher in tie games. He is at least 80 points higher for his career with Runners in Scoring Position and less than two outs, but that isn't highly unusual. It's not like his knocking in over a hundred runs a year and since he's batted third, fourth and fifth in the order for most of his career, you would think the production would be higher than that.

The trouble for the Dodgers is that they have nobody coming up in their system that's any better. All of their best prospects are either pitchers or shortstops. So the only way to improve production at first base is to trade Loney and a prospect for someone else, or, to sign one of the free agents on the market. Dunn and Berkman come time mind. But the Dodgers are still in their post-divorce haze and it's unlikely that they will be spending that kind of money.

James Loney doesn't really hurt anybody at first base. He plays league average defense and he bats league average. That makes him a decent player. It just doesn't make him a good or productive player. Perhaps a couple of years ago, that was enough. But last year showed it isn't good enough anymore.


bobook said...

Hey, Bill, a totally unrelated question for you. Ryne Sandberg will now coach the Phillies AAA ballclub after the Cubs did not even interview him for the Chicago spot. Do you think he has an agreement to step-in after Charlie Manuel steps away or do you think this is a lateral move taken from anger?

William J. Tasker said...

No, I would doubt he gets any guarantees for his future. It's a lateral move with Sandberg's hope that he will have a good shot at the big club when Manuel's had enough.

He hit the glass ceiling in Chicago. If a guy rises as high as he's going to rise in an organization, it's best for that organization and for the employee to part ways. Rarely do those situations work out after a guy doesn't get the promotion. That's why I'm worried about the Butterfield situation in Toronto. Writers up there assure me that Butterfield is a special kind of guy...but we'll just have to see how it works out.

Josh Borenstein said...

I heard the White Sox might be interested in Loney. Huge downgrade from Konerko. Maybe they could do some kind of platoon with Loney and Viciedo. Loney's splits reveal he is quite bad against lefties.