James Loney is currently in the worst, and longest, slump of his career. He has been terrible so far this season, hitting .150/.175/.217 through the first 16 games. Among the 202 qualified batters in MLB this season, Loney's .392 OPS is 200th (ahead of only Miguel Olivo and, yikes, Carl Crawford).
But it goes much deeper than that. Loney is the same now as he was after the All-Star break last season, when seemingly the entire Dodger offense went south.
Manager Don Mattingly acknowledged over the weekend that Loney has been exhibiting many of the same signs in his swing this season as he was in the second half last season. "I'm trying to keep James simplified. The issues come up with James because he changes so much. He moves his hands, he moves his feet," Whatever adjustments Loney is making, they aren't working.
Since the 2010 All-Star break, Loney has played in 89 of the Dodgers' 90 games, starting 80. During that span, over 340 plate appearances, Loney is hitting .199/.265/.309.
.199/.265/.309. In 340 PA.
No matter how that data gets sliced, it's rancid. Even folks who equate "production" solely with runs batted in have to acknowledge that Loney hasn't produced, as he has 31 RBI in those 89 games.
In those 80 starts, Loney has batted third four times, cleanup 31 times, batted fifth 26 times, and sixth 19 times. Those are run-producing spots in the batting order, and Loney has simply not produced. Is it any wonder the Dodgers have averaged 3.29 runs per game since last year's All-Star break? The offensive struggles of the team aren't only Loney's fault of course, but you can't have a hitter like Loney -- .213/.317/.281 in 104 PA with runners in scoring position during that span -- hitting in key spots in the lineup.
The solution to the Loney problem isn't as simple as sitting him against southpaws, as Mattingly did last week, once, putting Casey Blake at first base in San Francisco. Since last year's break, Loney is hitting .200/.241/.267 against left-handed pitching, but he's hitting .199/.276/.330 against right-handed pitchers, too.
I know what you are thinking. "Just call up Jerry Sands, and put him at first base," you might say, possibly even boldly exclaim.
Sands is certainly an option that has to be considered. However, we should also consider the case of Brandon Belt, who made the opening day roster for the Giants. Belt was ranked higher than Sands on preseason prospect lists by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN, and he has had some growing pains in his first three weeks in the majors. Belt is currently hitting .200/.310/.280 for the Giants, so it's important to temper our early expectations should Sands get promoted.
Then again, .200/.310/.280 looks awfully similar to, even better than, the .199/.265/.309 Loney has produced in his last 89 games.
The question, however, is this: who will produce more going forward? That, of course, isn't as easy to answer. It is becoming harder and harder to pick the man who has a slugging percentage of .398 over his last 485 major league games to play first base. The more Loney slumps, the shorter his rope. At the very least, Loney needs to be hitting lower in the lineup (and yes, I realize that's difficult given the current Dodgers roster and the alarming number of starts by Aaron Miles).
If Loney doesn't start producing soon, it will be time for the Dodgers to start sticking their head in the Sands.