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.

We hoped you liked reading Four Factors: James Loney by Jack Moore!

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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.