Don’t Be Fooled By James Loney’s Gaudy Slash Line

I’ve been writing about the Dodgers on a daily basis for nearly six full years now, and so you can probably imagine that one of the most exciting deals in that span was the massive trade with Boston last August. Oh sure, Los Angeles picked up Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, & Nick Punto, and that was nice enough — but nearly lost in that was the fact that after year upon frustrating year, James Loney was gone. Finally! My long personal nightmare would be over.

Here we are less than a year later, and now Loney’s hitting .375/.430/.528 for the Rays. It’s a line that demands examination. I’ll never escape him.

Clearly, fantasy players aren’t buying into this quite yet, with ownership levels below 8% in both ESPN & Yahoo leagues.  Yet it’s difficult to look at this…

loney_woba

…and not wonder what’s going on here.

So let’s look at the good. Though sample sizes remain small, Loney has become more selective at the plate, swinging at fewer of the bad pitches that ended up being weak groundouts late in his Dodger tenure. His O-Swing % — that’s percentage of balls swung at outside the zone — is down to 23.7% from 30.5% (2011) and 34.0% (2012).

Unsurprisingly, swinging at fewer awful pitches helps you out pretty much everywhere. Loney’s contact rate is up to a career-high 91.5%, while his swinging strike rate has dipped to a career-low 4.1%. I could simply tell you that his grounders have dropped while his line drive rate has increased, but let’s look at this chart instead:

loney_hitrates

That’s partially thanks to Joe Maddon, who has done what Joe Torre and Don Mattingly never quite could: keep Loney away from lefty pitching, against whom he’s managed a poor .295 wOBA in his career. Through Wednesday, 69 of Loney’s 79 plate appearances have come against righties, and while it’s worth pointing out that he actually does have 6 hits in those 10 tries against lefties, that’s not nearly enough to overcome years of ineptitude.

So that’s the good — Loney has been put in a position by his manager to succeed, and he’s stopped helping pitchers get him out by swinging at bad pitches.

What’s the bad? Well, a plus defensive first baseman who can handle righty pitching has value in the real world, especially on a team with a roster as flexible as Tampa’s. Unfortunately, his fantasy value remains limited, because he’s a first base-only player who simply doesn’t provide power. Loney has only one homer on the season; believe it or not, he hasn’t gone deep in his home park since 2011. He’s also a slow runner who adds little in stolen bases or runs.

So what you have here is a hitter with an admittedly gaudy line, and that’s eye-catching when you’re scrolling through the waiver list. Yet at an offense-first position, Loney doesn’t offer much of anything to back it up. He’s a one-category player, and one who doesn’t even play every day at that.

In AL-only leagues with a daily roster requirement, that’s probably worth your time. In shallower mixed leagues or weekly circuits, don’t let the nice slash line fool you.




Print This Post

Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


8 Responses to “Don’t Be Fooled By James Loney’s Gaudy Slash Line”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. l1ay says:

    There’s was no need for a quantitative analysis of Loney; everyone knows it’s a qualitative characteristic that making him so good this year. He is the annual bargain the Rays pull off the unwanted trash heap, only for said player to have a career year.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Scott says:

      Dodger bloggers have looked for reasons to point out Loney’s shortcomings, almost as intensely as they used to look for reasons to show Broxton and Billingsley’s successes. Not to say it’s entirely unfair, as in Loney’s case, his overall performance was a huge disappointment for the Dodgers. But there are certain themes that go beyond hard numbers, no matter how many stats these guys want to throw out there.

      In Loney’s case, to dismiss his success as “keep(ing) Loney away from lefty pitching” is hugely understating just how good he’s been so far. For one stretch in particular, he was 20 for 37 with ZERO STRIKEOUTS. That’s admittedly a small sample size, but given how much success is in that small sample size, it shouldn’t be ignored. He won a AAA batting title in 2006, and had a very promising start in the majors the following year. And, though it doesn’t show up neatly on the back of his baseball card (do they still make those?), Loney was excellent on the road in 2008 and 2009, very good everywhere in the first half of 2010, and incredible the final month of 2011. At only 29, it is entirely possible that a change of scenery and a good coaching staff might be enough for him to put together. Maybe not, but he’s had enough success scattered throughout his career to show this incredible start in Tampa may not just be fool’s gold.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Jacob says:

    He may be a straight up 1-cat guy, but I’ll tell you what, He is raking in points leagues right now.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Brian says:

    James Loney or Eric Hosmer in a 10 team mixed roto?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MLB Rainmaker says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Asks the guy that didn’t read to the end of the articles…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. papasmurf says:

    I picked him up on FRI to stream at UTIL only to drop him for Dirks because guess what,I was thnking he’s James Loney. Dirks does nothing and Loney has two jacks over the weekend which I could have had if I just kept him.

    His homer last night shows that he does have power. Maybe this is the year he hits .315 with 18 homers.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. q.qazz says:

    The Dodgers kept trying to turn Loney into a Home Run hitter leading to relaxed plate discipline. He always had some power – doubles and a few HRs, but LA seemed to want 20-25/yr homers annually.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Steve says:

    It’s June now, seems like he might be good and you might stink.

    Vote -1 Vote +1