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January 7, 2014

Hot Stove Scouting Report

James Loney

by Tim Steggall

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See our introduction to the Hot Stove Scouting Report series here.

Player Name: James Loney

Date Filed: 01/06/2014

Throws

Bats

Primary Pos

Secondary Pos

L

L

1B

DH

Swing Breakdown

Made big adjustment early in season—went from upright stance to a more athletic, crouched and compact stance which led to a much more well-connected and repeatable swing. Quiet stride to slightly closed. Stays balanced and keeps weight back. Good hands, with level, inside-out swing. Takes hands directly to the ball; does a nice job of staying on top and behind the baseball. At times gets a little rotational causing hands to drag in the back; closed stride makes it difficult to clear hips. Crouched stance and inside-out swing make pitches up and in difficult to barrel consistently.

Approach

“Selectively aggressive” approach: while he likes to swing, not overly aggressive as he rarely swings at pitches out of the zone. Wants to swing the bat. Put the ball in play in 80 percent of plate appearances in 2013. Therefore, success is somewhat dependent on BABIP, but does have a repeatable line drive swing. Does not appear to make large mechanical adjustment with two strikes. Aggressive on fastballs in the zone, more patient with off-speed pitches. Sees the ball deep; with inside-out swing looks to drive the ball to the middle of the field, hits the ball where it’s pitched. Shows the ability to use the whole field.

Seems to have a very good idea of what makes him successful—rarely sells out even in up counts or abandons his approach. Very consistent from AB to AB—rarely gives away ABs by swinging at bad pitches or putting a bad swing on the ball.

Makeup

Very consistent from AB to AB and game to game. Never shows much emotion, does not seem to let bad calls affect him—can’t tell from his body language whether he is having a good game or bad game. Might be mistaken for lack of energy but I interpreted it as in control of his emotions. “Stays within himself.”

Breakdown of Tools

Hit Tool

Grade

Description

6

Consistent approach with a line-drive, inside -out swing led to positive results in 2013. Has a “selectively aggressive” approach and shows willingness to use all fields. Fast hands that allow him to handle pitches in all zones. Plus plate coverage. Very good bat-to-ball ability; does not often swing through pitches and is not scared to hit with two strikes. Shows consistent swing and approach vs both RHP and LHP.

Power

Grade

Description

4

For an athlete listed at 6-foot-2, 225, Loney does not display game power typical of a first baseman. While the large frame, athletic build, and fast hands hint at greater raw power, it does not manifest itself in in-game home run power. Much of this is a result of Loney’s approach and swing mechanics. The crouched swing produces less leverage, and he lets the ball get deep and hits to all fields, rather than selling out to his pull side. While his inside-out swing and approach is not conducive for high home run totals, he does display gap-to-gap power and the ability to consistently hit the ball hard.

Speed

Grade

Description

4

While athletic and by no means a liability on the basepaths, Loney is not a burner. Clocking anywhere from a 4.4 on a jailbreak to 4.7 on a more traditional swing, Loney is not much of a threat to leg out an infield single. He is an aware baserunner that looks for the extra base but has a good sense of when he should and should not attempt it. Has enough speed to pressure outfielders, and can stretch deep singles into doubles.

Defense

Grade

Description

6

Sure-handed glove at first base. Makes the play on groundballs that he gets to: .995 fielding percentage in 2013. Good range to both his right and left. Good footwork around the bag. Advanced metrics grade him out as average to slightly above average, but draws glowing praise from teammates that may hint at more of an impact.

Arm

Grade

Description

6

A former pitcher in high school, Loney has a strong accurate arm that he utilizes effectively. The strong arm and consistent footwork allow Loney to make all the necessary throws at first base.

Batting Trends

Date Range: 2013 Season

Splits

vs. LHP

vs. RHP

Batted Ball Percentage

Batted Ball Percentage

GB

LD

FB

GB

LD

FB

43.31

27.2

26.45

43.78

29.9

21.4

Chase Percentage (Out of Strike Zone Swings)

Chase Percentage (Out of Strike Zone Swings)

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

34.41

30.06

40.00

35.62

31.15

33.96

Swing/Miss Percentage

Swing/Miss Percentage

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

FB (4/2/SNK)

CB/SL

CH/SPLT

6.81

15.85

13.82

13.27

32.39

22.22

Grades and Projections

Role

Present

Future

Everyday first baseman who will play plus defense, with strong hit tool vs both RHP and LHPs, but not a middle-of-the-order bat.

I don’t expect his defensive skills to decrease much in the near future, but there will likely be some volatility in his offensive production. I think if he is able to stay consistent with the approach and swing he showed this year he will find success more often than not, but 2013’s production was likely a high water mark.

Years expected to perform at current level: 4-5

Strengths

Athletic and durable first baseman who brings plus defense and a good approach to the plate day in and day out. Consistent at the plate—doesn’t try to do too much. Utilizes a good eye and quick hands to spray line drives to all fields. Ability to put together good ABs vs LHPs. Does not require platooning.

Weaknesses

Low ceiling on offensive production, due to his approach at the plate. Much of his on-base percentage may be attributed to luck on balls in play. Not a threat to consistently drive the ball out of the ballpark.

Means of Exploitation

Both right handed and left handed pitchers should challenge Loney in the zone. He wants to swing the bat—located fastballs down and away will be a challenge for him to consistently hit hard. Will take off-speed early in the count. Also has trouble with pitches in and elevated at his letters.

Loney has good enough bat control and bat-to-ball ability to put wood on well-executed pitches, oftentimes to his detriment. Can put pitches in play he may be better off not swinging at, or swinging through.

Not a threat to change the game with one swing—challenge him and make him hit your pitch.

RHP : Challenge him with mix in the zone away, set up to finish hard in. Can get a slider in under his hands.

LHP: Loney will pull off a tiny bit more against LHPs—mix away, mixing hard in to keep off balance. Can handle get me over off-speed stuff.

Conclusion

Loney took major offensive strides in 2013, performing well enough to earn a three-year, $21 million contract to re-sign with the Rays. The offensive production was likely the result of a change in swing mechanics and a change in approach—no longer expected to be a middle-of-the-order thumper, Loney utilized an aggressive approach and a short swing to pepper line drives to the middle of the field.

Much of the disagreement concerning Loney often revolves around his low power output and his hard to measure defensive skills. I have no concern about the lack of power if he continues to show a plus hit tool and the ability to consistently hit line drives. However, this is subject to a little more volatility due to fluctuating BABIP. While Loney likely has the raw power to hit for more home runs, a change in his approach would likely be at the expense of much that made him successful this season.

Going forward I think we should view Loney with tempered optimism. There is a lot of value in a left-handed hitting, very strong defensive first baseman who does not require a platoon mate against left-handed pitching. While he will not likely lose much defensive value in the coming years, his offensive production will likely be more volatile as his stats against LHP regress somewhat, and the natural effects of aging on his bat-speed occur. However, I liked the approach and swing and would not be surprised if he is able to sustain a similar level of success in the future.

Tim Steggall is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Tim's other articles. You can contact Tim by clicking here

Related Content:  Scouting,  Tampa Bay Rays

1 comment has been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Rusty Pecker

Awesome, thanks Tim

Jan 07, 2014 15:55 PM
rating: 0
 
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