Loney’s Lack of Pop

Ever since the Los Angeles Dodgers took him with the 19th overall pick in the 2002 draft, first baseman James Loney has been expected to develop power to complement a fluid, high-contact swing.

The 6-3, 220 pound lefty batter rarely hit with authority in the minor leagues, putting up a cumulative .296/.363/.430 triple-slash and a mild .134 Isolated Power. Loney reached L.A. in 2006, and he actually made those scouts look prescient by putting a charge into the ball in limited playing time in both ’06 and 2007. Since then, however, Loney’s power has been sorely lacking:

Here are Loney’s ISO and wRC+ figures during his big league career:

2006: 111 PA, .275 ISO, 132 wRC+
2007: 375 PA, .206 ISO, 140 wRC+
2008: 651 PA, .145 ISO, 106 wRC+
2009: 652 PA, .118 ISO, 104 wRC+

Over the past two seasons, the 25 year-old has the lowest ISO among first basemen (.132). It’s not particularly close, either: Todd Helton (.149 ISO) and Billy Butler (.163 ISO) are the next low men on the first base power totem pole.

As one might expect, Loney pulls the ball less than the average lefty batter, while hitting more to the opposite field (data courtesy of Baseball-Reference):

The pull field (right field for Loney) is where most batters put up their power numbers. Loney is no different. Actually, he has been outstanding when he laces the horsehide to right field. But, in addition to pulling the ball less often and hitting to the relatively punch less opposite field more than most, Loney has been well below-average on pitches hit up the middle:

As you can see, the pull field is where it’s at for batters (sorry, Mr. Bernazard). The average lefty hitter posts a .399 wOBA on pulled pitches, .360 to center and .316 to left field. Loney is a monster when he pulls (.430 wOBA), and he’s slightly above-average to left (.319 wOBA-but again, opposite field hitting is weaker overall, and Loney hits more pitches in that direction than the average lefty). But to center, his bat barely makes a peep (.325 wOBA).

Loney does make scads of contact. During his career, he has put the bat on the ball 93.5 percent of the time on pitches within the strike zone (87-88 percent MLB average), and 74.4 percent on offerings tossed out of the zone (60-61 percent MLB average). His contact rate is the 20th-highest in the majors over the past two seasons. However, that contact-oriented approach likely comes at the expense of extra-base clout.

He did do a better job of laying off junk pitches last year, which led to a career-high 10.7 percent walk rate. But even with an improved eye, he posted a .281/.357/.399 line at a position where the overall line was .277/.362/.483.

For 2010, CHONE projects Loney to hit .294/.355/.446 (116 wRC+). Those are essentially his career numbers to this point: .295/.354/.451, with a 114 wRC+. Loney’s RBI totals might lull fantasy players into thinking he’s a good option, but relative to the position that he plays, L.A.’s first baseman just hasn’t stacked up thus far. While he’s still young enough to show further improvement, Loney needs to lash the ball more frequently in order to truly be an asset.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


5 Responses to “Loney’s Lack of Pop”

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  1. Jimbo says:

    I guess the silver lining is that he wouldn’t require a different swing as much as a different approach. First signs of him pulling the ball more often could lead to a nice bump in power.

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  2. Mike K. says:

    Isn’t basically canon that Loney’s problem is his park?

    Career home split: .269/.333/.376
    Career road split: .320/.375/.524

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  3. Scott says:

    This guy has always been more hype than results. The Home Park hasn’t been doing him any favors, but for fantasy purposes, even if he hit 20 HR a year, he’d still be a low second or high third tier option.

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  4. Rudy Gamble says:

    I don’t think anyone’s under the illusion at this point that – for both Fantasy Baseball and real baseball purposes – Loney is barely above replacement level.

    For real baseball, it isn’t essential your 1B has 20+ HR power but you’d at least want to get high OBP in exchange. If he had Helton’s eye, he’d be underrated in real value (Helton had higher WAR last year than Morneau, Berkman, and Carlos Pena).

    But a .350 OBP with limited power is about as replacement level as it gets for 1B.

    For fantasy baseball, this is the type of guy who is always drafted too early in drafts. The guy who has decent stats but pretty much can be found on the FA wire in 10-12 team drafts….

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  5. Chris CT says:

    Not too hard to figure out, it’s the park. In the fantasy world, one of his biggest assets are his RBI numbers, something that I don’t see going down. His power numbers will improve, as will his average (only .299 BABIP). Every projection I see on Loney projects his BABIP at .310-.315.

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