James Loney is not your typical major league 1st baseman. Since Loney took over as the Dodgers main first baseman in 2007, here are the Dodgers ranking in home runs for the position of 1st base:
2010: 30th with 11 homers
2009: 30th with 13 homers
2008: 24th with 18 homers
2007: 23rd with 18 homers
However, in terms of RBI's for Dodger 1st baseman, the rankings are much more favorable for the same time period:
2010: 15th with 89 RBI's
2009: 13th with 100 RBI's
2008: 14th with 100 RBI's
2007: 5th with 108 RBI's
So obviously Loney has been been doing his job of driving runs home, just not via the traditional home run. That being said, most of us don't remember James as a productive player since our most recent memory of him was his terrible 2nd half in 2010. After hitting .309 with a .803 OPS and with 63 RBI's prior to the 2010 All Star Break, James slumped to a .211 average over the final 73 games with just 25 RBI's. Despite his solid track record over the previous few seasons, he was so bad at the end of last season that many felt that he should be non-tendered in December. The Dodgers decided to keep him around for at least another season, however, mostly because there weren't many other cost effective options out there at 1st base. I for one am pleased with this decision because Loney has always been one of my favorite Dodgers, and I'm sure most casual Dodger fans were also happy because they'd already lost one fan favorite in Martin, so losing another in Loney would be too much to handle (I'm guessing this also played into management's decision to keep him).
Loney has yet to record an extra base hit this spring, but there is no reason to panic. In a well timed article by Ken Gurnick (he must have read the draft of this post that had been sitting in the queue for two weeks), Loney says:
"I've been looking at old tapes from '07, when I hit nine homers in one month and I was driving the ball real well. I know what it feels like, that's why I'm excited about this year, because I slowly got away from it. I'm getting that feeling back and trusting it. I'm thinking that if I can drive in 90 and hit .270 with bad mechanics, imagine if I was doing all the right things? I showed early on that I could drive the ball with a no-fear attitude. Maybe I got caught up on trying to be too perfect with every pitch. You can't hit every pitch perfect."
While it might be a bit of an overstatement to say that 2011 is a make it or break it year for Loney, the truth is that a lot hinges on how James performs next season. The Dodgers will again face the decision of tendering Loney a contact next December, so if 2nd-half Loney re-emerges in 2011 for an extended period of time, his tenure with the Dodgers could be over. If he is able to revert back to the consistent player that we've seen for most of his career, however, I'm sure the Dodgers will gladly take him back for another year even if he doesn't hit a lot of homers. Looking even further into the future Loney has his first free agent contract to worry about after the 2012 season, so if he wants to get paid the big money he is going to have to really perform over the next few years.
When Loney hit a grand slam against the Cubs in the 2008 NLDS, he became just the 3rd Dodger to hit a grand slam in post season play. The other two Dodger postseason grand slams came on back to back days in 1977 against the Phillies in the NLCS when Ron Cey and Dusty Baker accomplished the feat on October 4th and October 5th.
Loney, in his 2nd year of salary arbitration, will make $4.875M in 2011. He had submitted a salary figure of $5.25M, while the Dodgers filed at $4.7M, so he ended up signing below the midpoint. 2012 will be Loney's final arbitration year, so unless he signs an extension with the club he will be a free agent after the 2012 season (if not sooner).
|2011 Projections - Age 27 Season|
Loney had a sore knee earlier in spring training, but everything seems to be fine now so I expect another injury free season. If history is any indication of what Loney will do in 2011, it appears that he'll hit around .280 with 10 homers and 90 RBI's. The projections seems to suggest that Loney will get his slugging % up above .400, so hopefully that will be the case. I'm going to be optimistic in my prediction and say that Loney will have a line of .295/.360/.445 in 2011 with 16 homers.
What is your guess for James Loney in 2011? Be sure to guess BA/OBP/SLG, HR's, and any other stats that you feel are relevant.