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The revival of James Loney

May 12, 2013, 6:05 PM EDT

James Loney AP

First baseman James Loney had two hits this afternoon, including a solo home run in the eighth inning, as his Rays went on to defeat the Padres in the series finale 4-2. Loney entered the day as one of the best hitters in the American League with a .371/.426/.533 line, a welcome sight for the Rays who picked him up on a one-year, $2 million deal back in December.

After breaking out in 2006 and ’07 with the Dodgers, posting an aggregate .915 OPS in 486 plate appearances, Loney endured hardships as he failed to live up to expectations. From 2008-12, he slugged under .400 with an OPS under the league average. The Dodgers rid themselves of him in the mega-deal that brought Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto to Chavez Ravine.

So what’s gotten into Loney? He’s hitting for more power than he has in the last five years despite the meager three home runs and is walking nearly as much as he is striking out (10 to 12 in 120 PA), something he hasn’t done since 2009.

At the end of April, Tommy Rancel of ESPN’s Rays blog The Process Report noted that Loney has added a leg kick which was certainly evident in his home run this afternoon, and that may be the mechanical explanation for his success. The pitches Loney used to roll over for weak grounders are now being hit with authority for line drives and deep fly balls. Not a bad bargain bin grab for the Rays, who seem to make a habit out of this.

  1. thomas844 - May 12, 2013 at 6:23 PM

    Gotta be the sunscreen making him hit better.

  2. randygnyc - May 12, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    “What’s gotten into Loney?” Probably steroids.

    • buddaley - May 12, 2013 at 7:47 PM

      Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
      Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

    • indaburg - May 12, 2013 at 8:03 PM

      He’s not Dominican. /sarcasm

    • paperlions - May 12, 2013 at 8:12 PM

      Yes, because steroids cause players to hit the ball where the fielders ain’t.

      What has “gotten into Loney”, if anything, is a little luck. His BABIP is an unsustainable .402 (nearly 100 pts higher than his career BABIP). Just like everyone else with a BABIP north of .380…you can expect that number to come down throughout the year.

    • tuberippin - May 13, 2013 at 1:22 AM

      From the man whose team sports arguably the most egregious and transparent steroid user in recent baseball history.

  3. duckthefodgers - May 12, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    Low expections = no pressure

  4. duckthefodgers - May 12, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    *expectations, dammit.

  5. proudlycanadian - May 12, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Both the Dodgers and the Red Sox gave up on him. The Rays seem to have a lot of success with bargain basement players like this.

    • dondada10 - May 12, 2013 at 6:56 PM

      This is a perfect example of why the Rays have been so competitive under Friedman/Maddon: Tampa scouts and coaches better than any organization this side of the Cardinals.

      Might also help explain why Mike Scioscia went from genius to dolt in a matter of a few years.

      • tuberippin - May 13, 2013 at 1:25 AM

        Also Jeff Mathis.

    • manchestermiracle - May 13, 2013 at 8:28 AM

      Three years of underachieving with the Dodgers (right after going from $465K/year to $3.1M/year) is hardly “giving up.”

  6. gotampabay52 - May 12, 2013 at 6:54 PM

    Rays Way period

  7. 13arod - May 12, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    every time tampa signs a vetern they are good hitters

    • buddaley - May 12, 2013 at 7:42 PM

      I wish it were true, and sometimes the Rays have gotten more out of discarded veterans than most expected. So far it is true of Loney this year, and Kelly Johnson as well. True too of Keppinger & Kotchman and Pena (in 2007).

      But consider these names: Burrell, Matsui, Pena (the second time) were awful. Damon was mediocre at best. We will see if Scott continues to do well, but between injuries and streaky play he was not good last year. And efforts to get significant production from Brandon Allen and Brad Hawpe failed while Shoppach also disappointed, even against lefties.

      • dondada10 - May 12, 2013 at 8:05 PM

        Manny?

      • tuberippin - May 13, 2013 at 1:36 AM

        To be fair, Damon was mediocre there, in New York for a couple years beforehand, and in Cleveland afterwards. It’s hard to get any juice out of an orange that’s been fully squeezed.

        Brandon Allen was just a quintessential Quad-A guy. His K-rate in the bigs kept climbing after 2009, while his power dropped. He should have been a Chris Carter clone, but it didn’t pan out that way. I dunno that you can fault the Rays for taking a flyer there.

        Carlos Pena…well, I attribute that to looking for cheap power sources and finding (again) high K rates with less power than anticipated. Plus, he had that monster season in 2008, so I suppose they thought some familiar surroundings would aid him, considering that was far and away the best season of his career (which he’s spent bouncing around from team to team).

        I’d cut that list down to ManRam, Hideki Matsui, Pat “The Bat,” Kelly Shoppach, Luke Scott, and Brad Hawpe.

      • buddaley - May 13, 2013 at 6:53 AM

        I don’t “blame” the Rays for any of those signings. On the contrary, I think they all made sense, and that includes Blalock too. I am just pointing out that there is no magic ability to transform aging or flawed players into useful hitters.

        I think the Rays front office is terrific, but also think that listing (or remembering) successes and failures is a poor way to evaluate them. As with any team, it is possible to identify numerous specific examples of each, especially when considered without context. What is more worthwhile is to consider the reasoning behind moves, and on that score, I think the Rays look very good, including their decisions on players like Burrell and Matsui.

      • gloccamorra - May 13, 2013 at 3:36 PM

        It’s possible the guys who didn’t do well with the Rays were a little, um, resistant to making the changes scouts thought needed to be made? Hawpe in particular has a lot of moving parts in his swing. He’s frustrated more than one batting coach.

  8. jwbiii - May 12, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Obviously, moving to a less competitive division has helped him.

    • bleedgreen - May 12, 2013 at 7:39 PM

      Yes. The Yankees, Sox, Orioles and (on paper) the Jays are a MUCH worse group of teams than the Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants and Rockies

      • jwbiii - May 12, 2013 at 7:49 PM

        Let’s not discount lineup protection, either. When you’ve got hitters like Yunel Escobar and Jose Molina coming up behind you, you can sit dead red.

  9. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 12, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    He stole Rodney’s mojo.

    • indaburg - May 12, 2013 at 8:02 PM

      Rodney has been great his past few appearances.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 12, 2013 at 8:20 PM

        but terrible for the past few years, with a single exception

      • indaburg - May 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM

        Yes, an entire historically great season. So negative tonight… Don’t look now. Tampa’s clicking and we’re coming.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 13, 2013 at 10:34 PM

        Farnsworth, Kotchman, Rodney…the TB magic has an expiration date…

        Don’t feel bad, the Yankees have been on the same diet. Andruw, Chavez, Let’s see with Ichiro, Wells, Hafner…

      • indaburg - May 14, 2013 at 3:46 AM

        Trusting old arms has worked out pretty good for the Yankees. Perhaps it will work out for us as well.

      • proudlycanadian - May 12, 2013 at 8:43 PM

        I will have some of what she is having.

      • indaburg - May 12, 2013 at 8:49 PM

        Plantains. Lots of them. :-)

      • proudlycanadian - May 12, 2013 at 9:32 PM

        Good one.

  10. yahmule - May 12, 2013 at 8:02 PM

    Must be great to get 2200 ABs to hit your way out of a slump.

  11. paperlions - May 12, 2013 at 8:14 PM

    Man, confirmation bias working overtime in this thread.

    • dondada10 - May 12, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      So you mean a James Loney hot streak doesn’t definitively mean that the Tampa brain trust is infallible?

      Hogwash.

      • paperlions - May 12, 2013 at 9:11 PM

        Well….when you put it like that….

  12. captaincanoe - May 12, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    Either, Kemp and Loney came on about the same time with the Dodgers. Being a Dodger fan I seen a lot of Loney and thought for sure he’d be a batting champ some day. Great left handed swing and hit everything on a rope. Thought he was the best hitter of the three.

  13. insidefastball - May 13, 2013 at 12:28 AM

    It never ceases to amaze me how Tampa Bay manages to resurrect some guys from the scrap heap each year. They even got some decent outings out of Kyle Farnsworth in the closer role a few years back.

    • buddaley - May 13, 2013 at 7:12 AM

      There is nothing amazing about it. Farnsworth had demonstrated improvement in his command and had developed an effective new pitch before the Rays picked him up. They recognized his growth and used him well.

      As for “some decent outings”, before he got hurt, he was solid most of the time in 2011 and after a rough return in July the next year, provided pretty consistent set up work the rest of the season.

      The Rays have done a good job building bullpens from castoffs, fading players and injury risks. Balfour, Benoit, Peralta & Rodney are good examples. They have also had flops such as Nelson, Ekstrom, Cruz and arguably Percival.

      Again, this is not criticism. On the contrary, I admire their ability to develop pitchers of all sorts. But there is more at work here than simply some mystical ability to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. It has to do, I think, with recognizing specific talents among the flaws and finding ways to use them effectively.

  14. scoocha - May 13, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    Guys this one is easy – he’s in a contract year. By only getting a 1 year deal, he’s just extra motivated to achieve this season. Once he steals a 3 year deal for some team (probably TB), he’ll be back to his poor hitting in no time.

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