I understand everyone’s worries. Loney has started the season 0-for-12 and is already on Dodger fans’ short lists for “must be replaced.” I mean, why keep a big, slugging first baseman who can’t actually slug? Why not go out and find a guy who hits 30 home runs like Prince Fielder? Or hits .320 like Joey Votto?
Because Loney is far more valuable than you think. Streaky, yes. Frustrating, sure. But out of the sixth position in the lineup, I’ll take a .287 average and 87 RBI (Loney’s 162-game averages) each year, regardless of how many of his hits go over the fence. Plus, he plays a very good first base, something that is invaluable when you have a young shortstop and a strong-armed, yet wild throwing third baseman.
Look at the best first basemen in baseball right now: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Eric Hosmer, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Gaby Sanchez. That’s nine. Loney is arguably better than Freeman and Sanchez all-around, and certainly right in the thick of things to be named after the likes of those other big names. That means Loney is a top-ten first baseman in all of baseball.
But don’t let my opinion sway you – let the stats do the talking. As I mentioned above, one part of Loney’s game that is largely overlooked because he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, is the fact that he is a run-producing machine. Driving in 87 runs per season is absolutely nothing to scoff at. For what Loney lacks in punch (and likability, for that matter – my God he is boring), he makes up for with clutchness. Yes, that’s a word. I made it up. Deal with it.
There aren’t many hitters in the game who take a better approach to their at-bats with runners in scoring position. Loney is a master at hitting doubles and going the other way with a runner on 2nd base. If you’ve been watching the Dodgers since he was named the starter a few years ago, you’d agree. And how many times has a two-out rally started with a single by Loney?
I don’t care how big my first baseman is…if he’s getting on base, starting rallies, and coming through in the clutch, he doesn’t have to hit home runs.
Okay, 0-for-12. That’s bad. I watched the game from beginning to end yesterday and three of his at-bats, he SCORCHED the ball. Against a lefty. The first time it was hit right at an infielder, and the next two were hit right at outfielders. That’s bad luck, folks. Those hits are going to drop. And if they had been in a little better place, he’d be hitting .250 and people would just call it a slow start.
Loney isn’t the guy we need to be worried about yet. Give him time. Remember last year? He was unstoppable down the stretch. That’s the real James Loney, he just needs some hits to start falling and he’ll be right back hovering around the .275 mark and being a productive hitter in the bottom part of this Dodger lineup. Besides, do you really think Jerry Sands and his .111 batting average in AAA would be an improvement? I didn’t think so.