Do We Really Know What to Expect from Loney

James Loney is a likeable personality.  He's also the king of nicknames - J-Lo, Crazy Eyes, Geoffery, Big Game James, etc.  But do we really know what to expect from him as a hitter?

Batting Line and EqA:
2006: .284/.342/.549  .297
2007: .331/.381/.538  .312
2008: .289/.338/.434  .274
2009: .281/.357/.399  .278

It's not exactly comforting to see a falling ISO every year, particularly at an age where he should be developing power.   It seems like it wouldn't be right to give up on the guy, particularly since he's still young (turns 26 next May), but given that he's going to start making more than the minimum soon, how worried should we be?

First, I want to compare Loney's  minor league stats, preseason ZIPS projections, and PrOPS.  This shows us his past, what we were expecting before the season started, and what we should have expected based on batted ball types.  It also means checking Baseball-Reference, Baseball Think Factory, and The Hardball Times.

2002 (rookie league): .371/.457/.624
2002 (A+): .299/.356/.388
2003 (A+): .276/.337/.400
2004 (AA): .238/.314/.327
2005 (AA): .284/.357/.419
2006 (AAA): .380/.426/.546
2007 (AAA): .279/.345/.382

2006: .250/.317/.343
2007: .297/.351/.434
2008: .296/.350/.470
2009: .295./347/.456

PrOPS                             OPS-PrOPS
2006: .276/.333/.454    .114
2007: .300/.350/.501    .068
2008: .289/.339/.426    .007
2009: .298/.371/.438   -.052

A few things stick out, just looking at these.  First, as good as Loney's 2007 in the majors was, he was just plain awful in the minors that year - we probably wouldn't think he was as amazing if he was struggling like that in Dodger Stadium, even with the good end of the season.  In any event, that was still enough to throw off ZIPS for every year after 2007.  Secondly, PrOPS, which is based on batted ball types, suggests that his case was well overstated in 2006, and while 2007 was good if not a little lucky, 2008 was about what it should have been.  What we don't appreciate enough, it would seem, is the progress Loney made in terms of getting on base in 2009; the .371 PrOBP is the best he had put up, and his walk rate was at the highest of his career this season too.  From the looks of it, part of Loney's issue seems to be very similar to Billingsley's - he got lucky earlier in his career, and then 2009 was unlucky.

If you look at his batted ball stats, they're so consistent between 2008 and 2009 it's kind of eery.  It's also frustrating that he's not slugging more with a 22% line drive rate.  His home run rate was higher in 2007, but again, that's a partial season, and he was awful in Vegas in 2007.  His plate discipline shows encouraging signs, though.  He got much better at avoiding pitches out of the zone (going from swinging at 26% to 22% of out of zone pitches), boosting his walk rate to 10.8%.  And one thing I found interesting is that other than 2008, he does not have a significant platoon split; in 2009, he actually hit better against lefties than righties.  His worst slot in the batting order, for what it's worth, is 5th, where he spent most of his time this year.  His best is 8th, then 3rd, then 6th and 7th.

Bill James has him hitting .295/.360/.440, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had a higher OBP.  Given his poor 2009, he shouldn't get too much of a raise this year, so it seems reasonable to look forward to him putting up an .800 OPS season in Dodger Blue next year.

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