For Years, James Loney was the first baseman who could hit and get on base, but never hit for the kind of power that would vault him to anything beyond a mediocre option for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then, in 2012, he stopped doing the first bit too.
With a career-low 6.4 BB/9 and .646 OPS, Loney found himself traded to the Boston Red Sox…where he proceeded to do even worse, putting together an unplayable .230/.264/.310 triple-slash over the final 30 games of the season.
A below-replacement level season was anything but the breakout contract year that the 28-year old hoped for, and that opened up an opportunity for the Tampa Bay Rays, who believe that an opportunity for Loney to begin building his value anew will yield them a bargain, as the team signed him to a one-year, make-good deal with $2 million.
It’s a steep drop from the $6.375 he earned in 2012, but it’s commiserate to the drop in his numbers.
Loney’s problems were three-fold. One, his walk rate, which had peaked in 2009 with 10.7 percent, has been in a three-year decline, sinking his OBP to sub .300 levels.
That would have been fine, if he could keep his average close enough to his .282 career, but a .269 BABIP suggests that the baseball gods were not particularly kind to him, especially when his line-drive rate remained healthy (it was a career-best 24.7 percent, in fact), and he didn’t hit a significantly higher number of balls in the infield.
He did, on the other hand, stop hitting for power, with a career-low .088 ISO that yielded just six homers and 20 doubles – also a five-year low. That might have a little something to do that he hit more grounders in 2012 (1.56 GB/FB), though it’s worth noting that he barely hit the ball soft enough for it to remain to be in the infield.
In short, there are a lot of issues there for him to solve with the Rays in 2013.
Fortunately, most of them could be fixed with a simple dose of good ol’ luck, as his batting profile and plate discipline really shows no aberrations that would otherwise show exactly why he ended with a .630 OPS over the full season.
The Rays and Loney are hoping a change of scenery will be the metaphorical rabbit’s foot, even though the results will likely not be Loney becoming a game-changing offensive force.
Where a return to adequate offensive output will help, however, is Loney’s defense, which has been above-average over most of his career. Like Carlos Pena in 2012, Loney will have to get on base enough to not hurt the Rays on offense, so that he’ll have an opportunity to make a different with the glove.
With any luck, he should be able to do just that, and give the Rays a complimentary piece towards the bottom of their lineup.