James Loney’s 2011 was much like his 2010 when all was said and done, in that his supporters still stood behind him while his detractors once again saw too little progress to declare Loney a changed man and the slugging corner infielder people think he can be.
Chad already dug into Loney’s late season surge that not only – in all likelihood – saved his job for next year but also showed improvement from the previous campaign, and his analytical work showed that James’ mechanics at the plate had changed under new hitting coach Dave Hansen’s tutelage.
The question that remains, however, is whether that change will continue going forward, and whether Loney can be more than the 2.3 WAR player he was this season. Loney has often been compared to Mark Grace, but that comparison lacks substance when you consider that Loney has been overrated with the glove for much of his career, and has only walked in 8.1% of his career plate appearances. Hitting for minimal power is one thing, but if that’s the player you are, you better be stellar with the glove and get on-base, particularly as a first baseman.
After an abysmal start to the season (.246/.297/.311/.609 with 9 extra-base hits through 66 games), Loney picked it up to finish strong in the last 92 games, hitting .320/.370/.495/.865 with 34 extra-base hits. BABIP almost certainly played a role in both portions of his season, as a .348 mark contributed to his success, while a .260 mark accompanied the early-season struggles (Loney’s career BABIP is .311).
Again, 2011 was arguably Loney’s best season, as he set full-season career highs in WAR (2.3) and UZR/150 (5.6), but even then he still managed a triple slash line of just .288/.339/.416, a wOBA of .329, a 109 wRC+, an ISO of .128, and a decrease in his already low BB% (down three consecutive years, checking in at 7.2% in 2011). To put it mildly, even with his ridiculous hot streak to cap the season, Loney was still underwhelming.
So we come to the issue of whether the Dodgers will be stuck yet again with Loney at first, and over the course of the season, we went from “probably will be tendered, because of course he will be” to “god no, we shall finally be rid of him” to “yeah, he’s coming back, and now with even higher expectations“.
While I am still fully in favor of anyone else, Loney’s all but guaranteed himself a job in L.A. next year, and somewhere in the range of seven million dollars to go along with it. The sad part is that the Dodgers don’t have a ton of options anyways, although that should never be an excuse for continuing to accept a fringe average player.
I have my doubts, but I’d love to be proven wrong. For an entire season.