Four Factors: James Loney

Previous Four Factors Entries:
Shin-Soo Choo
Carlos Gonzalez
Joe Morgan
Brennan Boesch
Martin Prado

Earlier today, I stumbled upon this tweet from Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Baseball insider recently said James Loney was “hands down” the Dodgers’ MVP in the first half of the season.

I don’t know who this baseball insider is, but he is flat out wrong – Loney is nothing more than a slightly above average hitter, and at first base, that makes his ceiling a roughly average player. Let’s dive into Loney’s hitting skills with the help of the Four Factors – walk rate, strikeout rate, power on contact, and performance on balls in play.

Let’s start with Loney’s supposed team-MVP first half of 2010.

Loney has had a solid year at the plate – his .334 wOBA is good for a 109 wRC+ in this year of the pitcher. However, that’s not nearly as good as any of the top three hitters on the Dodgers to date: Manny Ramirez (.396), Rafael Furcal (.386), or Andre Ethier (.380). Also, there are clear problems with Loney’s game that keep him from becoming anything more than an average hitter. First, he hasn’t showed much discipline this year – only 84% of the league average walk rate. Secondly, he hasn’t shown any power, as his POW score of .152 is exceptionally low for a first baseman. He does make a lot of contact, which makes his .329 BABIP help his line even more than the typical hitter. However, if that BABIP drops, that means that his one real skill – contact – won’t be quite as meaningful.

Is this typical of Loney’s career?

Loney actually showed better peripherals in 2009, particularly in the plate stats of BB% and K%. In both of those categories, he was excellent. However, his power was even lower, and his BABIP wasn’t nearly as high. That exacerbates his lack of power and lessens the impact of his impressive contact rates – simply put, it doesn’t matter if you make a lot of contact if it’s weak contact. His 2008 was similar to what he’s done in 2010 so far, but with a lower BABIP.

Loney hasn’t shown any power since 2007, when he posted a .240 POW. As we get farther and farther away, that 375 PA sample, the only sample in which we see Loney demonstrate MLB first baseman type hitting, it will factor less and less into our evaluations. Instead, we’ll see a high-contact, low-power, inconsistent discipline type of player. That’s an average to slightly above average hitter, as Loney has been the last three years, and that’s great if he’s at a premium position. However, Loney is a first baseman, and even if his defense is better than his -5 career UZR suggests, that bat simply doesn’t add up to more than an average player. Loney is a decent role player, but his perception, as the above tweet shows, is much more than his reality. Some team is going to spend way too much money for his services in a couple years. Just hope that it’s not your team.

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16 Responses to “Four Factors: James Loney”

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  1. D4P says:

    Old-schoolers think highly of Loney because he racks up relatively high RBI numbers, which he manages to do in large part because he gets a lot of PAs with runners on and/or in scoring position.

    To his credit, he has also performed really well in those situations, whether through talent or luck.

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  2. Matt K says:

    I picked up Loney as a minor leaguer in my league with that 07 season, and played into my stats last year and this year. He’s been frustrating, and while I think there may be upside, I was surprised to see that he was just as, if not more valuable than my other 1bman: Adam Laroche (yes, I’m weak at 1b). Similar ops. better runs. better rbi’s. obviously lacking in HR’s but the 9 steals definitely helps make up for it.

    I’m frustrated by his lack of power, but the steals and rbis help quell my frustrations.

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  3. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    Lazy article. Pays no attention to home road splits which are giant for Loney (until this year, when for some reason they have leveled out.) Loney has enough power if you have the right home ballpark to be in the back end of the the top 10 first basemen in the league. I doubt he gets paid like that, because no one pays first basemen who haven’t hit home runs tons of money. I’d take a gamble on him if it were the right situation and the right price for sure. He’s worth a lot more to most any other team in the league than he is to the Dodgers.

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    • twinsfan says:

      The “back end of the top 10″ first basemen?

      His WAR total at his position over the last 3 years barely puts him in the top 20.

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        Can you read? If he were in another park, one that didn’t suppress his power numbers.

        Now, he’s obviously somewhere right around average, which is why he isn’t likely to be paid well. In another park, he’s likely to hit more, which means he very well may out perform his next contract, that is, if he moves on from the Dodgers.

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      • CC says:

        And what exactly are you basing that on Crumpled Stiltskin? He’d produce better away from LA, no doubt, but to be in the top 10? 10 1st basemen that would still be better:

        Albert Pujols
        Mark Teixeira
        Joey Votto
        Kevin Youkilis
        Ryan Howard
        Adrian Gonzalez
        Miguel Cabrera
        Prince Fielder
        Justin Morneau
        Carlos Pena

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      • Gigantes says:

        You mean Dodger Stadium? A stadium that has a 116/100 HR factor on lefties? Yeah, I’m sure that’s really hurting him.

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      • Jack Moore says:

        Thanks for making me not have to look this up!

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      • B N says:

        @Gigantes: I believe he was referring to the fact that Loney has hit 2x as many HR on the road. While this doesn’t for-sure mean that his home park suppresses his power (his HR are kind of a small sample size, har har), it might that. Moreover, park factors don’t necessarily boost all aspects of a player’s game. Fenway boosts AVG, but lowers HR, for example. So in closing, there is a possibility that if Loney played somewhere else, he could hit 25 HR or more in a year, but suffer a 20 pt drop in AVG. ;) Still wouldn’t make him a top 10 1B in my opinion, but food for thought.

        With that said, I never got the Loney-frenzy. Is this guy really that much better than Lyle Overbay was a couple years back? Because to me, they look like pretty similar players. with Loney a bit better in AVG and worse in DEF. And nobody was calling Overbay an MVP of anything.

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    • Tony says:

      Lazy commenting.

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  4. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    “Thanks for making me not have to look this up???”

    Who cares what Dodger’s stadium hr factor is? Look up his home road splits. You can look it up on your own site. Every player is an individual, and James Loney until this year James Loney has hit for much more power on the the road than at home.

    His three year splits from 2007-2009 which doesn’t include 2006 where he also showed the same tendency:

    That’s 743 at bats at home, 34 doubles, 4 triples and 11 home runs. 772 at bats away with 44 doubles, 8 triples and 30 home runs.

    That’s a large enough sample size to be significant, and you don’t think Dodger stadium suppresses his home runs? Because of a park factor? As if what happens in a particular situation doesn’t matter at all?

    And you aren’t even interested enough in what you wrote to look it up? It takes three minutes. And this is your job. You are supposed to be after some sort of truth, even if it is the relatively boring truth that James Loney (who still should be getting better into his next contract) could be a borderline/lower top 10 first baseman during his next contract and that this was a somewhat lazy article.

    He could easily be better than Ryan Howard, Carlos Pena, Tex and Prince Fielder if they play like this year, which wouldn’t surprise as three of the four are entering or in the decline phase of their career. The same guys are not in the top 10 every year.

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    • Jimbo says:

      Okay, so park factors don’t matter…only Loney’s performance?

      Then why would a team think he’ll START hitting home runs at home suddenly?

      By your own logic it seems better to assume he just has more road-power. Why would that change with a different home park??

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        Park factors are a short cut so you don’t have to look at every players home road splits, but park factors also don’t tell you everything. Every left handed hitter has a unique swing.

        My logic is simple, it is simply that his swing doesn’t mesh with his home park as indicated by his numbers. You are the one who is confusing it. It doesn’t make sense to assume he has more “road-power” because no player in history has more “road-power” to the extreme of 3-1. What does make sense, what is simplest is that he is playing in a home park that is not particularly well suited to him.

        And are you implying that Loney’s personal performance doesn’t matter in evaluating Loney??? And/or are you implying, in addition, that to this end his personal performance is less important than a park factor that is clearly not indicative of anything in this instance? Maybe in other instances, yes, but in this one, obviously not. And that’s more important than the fact that from 2007-2009 Loney hit something like 30 homers on the road and 11 at home???? And this ratio is even more skewed if you include that partial 2006 season.

        The problem with statistics really is that you have to know how to read them and contextualize them. It seems to be a big problem with stats, metrics and sports, no matter how far up the statistical totem poll you go.

        Look at the numbers. It’s not really that hard to see that it’s possible, and even likely that he’s a 20-25 home run hitter on the road with possible peaks around 30 in his best years and around 18 in his worst, and that puts Loney, in most years, in the bottom of the top 10, with the rest of his game.

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      • Not feeding the troll says:

        “My logic is simple, it is simply that his swing doesn’t mesh with his home park as indicated by his numbers.”

        I lol’d.

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  5. Tack says:

    Is there a pitching equivalent of the “four factors”?

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