For a few years James Loney was as solid a lightning rod around most Dodger blogs as you could hope for. Many hated him and simply wished for Joey Votto to appear in his place. Many liked James and hoped that his initial success would manifest itself again using his road success as proof it could happen. For a brief moment in 2010 James Loney looked like he might make his detractors think second thoughts. By May 15 the OPS was up to .840 fueled by a .368 BABIP with four home runs in 150 at bats.
On the surface it looked like he was breaking out, but the reality was the average was a BABIP mirage; more troubling was the huge drop in his walk rate. With only 30 points separating his average from his OBP, he didn't have much room for error if the hits stopped dropping in. For the next two months James hit okay but was nothing special. The OPS did start moving South but on July 15th it was still above .800. Like most Dodgers he must have felt the All-Star break was the end of the year because, like the rest of the core, he simply took off the rest of the year.
And stopped dropping off is exactly what happened: from July 15th until the end of the year his BABIP was. 268, his TSL was .211/.285/.331, awful for a SS, tragically awful for a 1st baseman. There is no positive way to spin the air of putridity that accompanied Loney's 2nd half season slide.
For many of you who have grown tired of my debate on the side of Loney, you will be surprised to learn I was his biggest critic in the minor leagues while commenting over at Dodger Thoughts. I looked at those mediocre numbers and wondered what held anyone's interest in him. Canuck always told me that I was being unfair about Loney, that he was always so young for his leagues that he was doing just fine. Trust the scouts who loved the swing and said the power would come. I didn't understand the folks who hated on Nomar and wanted Loney playing 1st base.
Then Loney showed up, and hit and hit and hit. I was in shock that this piddling minor leaguer was destroying National League pitching. I chalked it up to being wrong. When the following spring came and everyone was in outrage that Nomar was again playing first and not the wonderkid Loney, I cannot remember which camp I fell in. I do remember watching Loney flail in Vegas while Nomar played 1st. This Sept child who had delivered 15 XBH in only 100 at bats in Sept could not buy a home run in the most hittable park in baseball. One home run in 233 at bats. This is they guy you want to replace Nomar with? Yes, and again they were right. Loney came up and again hit the snot out of the ball, except this time he did it in over 344 at bats. So for over two years and almost 500 plate appearances the Kid had an OPS over .900.
I was defeated, I gave in, I accepted the fact the minor league numbers meant nothing and that the scouts had this one pegged all along. James Loney was the real deal.
So 2008 rolls in and James Loney then spends the next three years proving I was right the first time and wrong the second time, making me wrong every time. For three years he has seen his OPS fall from .777 to .756 to .722. I literally do not know what to believe. The evidence seems clear that James Loney is not going to become the hitter we thought we had in the winter of 2007.
However, this is where baseball is at its most confounding. It would not shock me at all that after we all give up on him, he comes back and surprises us with success.
Ron Shandler has a saying that he's put to good use over at Baseball HQ. "Once you display a skill you own that skill." James Loney once had the skill to post a .900 OPS in over 500 major league appearances. If James Loney is still on the team in 2011 one thing is very clear. James Loney must hit for this team to be competitive. Most of you don't think he can. I have no answer to that, I've been wrong on him at every turn. I won't pretend to say I have the answer now.
I will just say that if James Loney is traded or non-tendered this winter he will leave this fan with more pleasant memories then unpleasant ones. For right or wrong, I'll be certain we will regret it.
1. I cannot fully describe how his grand slam lifted me up out of my chair onto a blue cloud of beauty. For so long I had seen us fail in the playoffs in exactly the way it looked like we were going to fail again. I am certain to this day that if James Loney does not hit that grand slam that we would not have won one game against the Cubs.
2. His 2006 Sept was simply a joy to behold. The young kid just smacking line drive base hit after line drive base hit.
3. His 2007 season was a repeat of Sept. 2006. Things looked so bright the winter of 2007 for all of the core. OMG it was a good time to be a Dodger fan.
4. His general good nature, the Goofy Loney.
5. His beautiful defense. Growing up with Wes Parker, I loved a good defensive 1st baseman and James was as good as I'd seen at the scoops.
So if you don't want James Loney to be your 1st baseman in 2011 and beyond, I understand, but also understand that when you attack James with the vitriol that I see in the comments, my defensive mechanism kicks in just as yours does when I take pot shots at the slacker playing CF.