James Loney Can't Hit For Power

James Loney, last 7 days: 5 HR, .480 BA, .480 OBP, 1.180 SLG, 1.660 OPS (!). Just sayin’.

Not to mention, as I write this, he doubles in the first run of tonight’s game off Greg Maddux. Update: and as I’m just about finished with this, he singles in 2 more! He’s got all 3 RBI so far. Update 2: and as I’m looking for a good picture, he gets another RBI hit! 4 RBI! It’s like he knows.

Small sample size? Sure! But while I still don’t expect that he’ll be a 40 homer guy, can we put to rest the “he won’t hit for enough power to be an elite first baloneydinger.jpgseman” fallacy? First of all, even if that were true, I don’t think it would matter – I’ll take a .320-hitting doubles machine with a golden glove any day.

But I think it’s pretty clear the power is going to come. He’s hit in the bigs since the day he arrived – in 378 career at-bats (a little more than half a season worth) he’s putting up a .312 average, and a .532 slugging pct. If that’s what we could expect from him every year? Great! But let’s not forget.. the kid won’t even turn 24 until next May, and he’s already got a career .896 OPS. Is it unreasonable to think that he’s only going to get better as he matures? Not at all.

Let’s look at some real stats. This is, officially, Loney’s “rookie year”, since he only got 102 at-bats last year, short of the 150 required to lose your rookie status. (Ryan Braun’s all but got the Rookie of the Year award sewn up, so I won’t even bother advocating that.) Amongst all MLB first basemen, he’s ranked 17th in VORP. Not that impressive, you say? Well, don’t forget – VORP is not a percentage stat – it’s a counting stat. That means that most of these other guys were accumulating VORPs (VORPage? VORP units? How are we using the plural of this?) while Loney was traipsing aorund the PCL on buses. So let’s try something more useful, and since I’m using a Baseball Prospectus stat, I might as well use their definition as well:

VORPr: VORP rate. Runs/game contributed beyond what a replacement level player would produce.

Basically, it eliminates the fact that Loney hasn’t had as much time to pile up VORPsticles over the season by seeing how much he’s got per game.

2007 MLB 1B by VORPr, min. 50 PA:

1. Mark Teixeira .501
2. Carlos Pena .447
3. Albert Pujols .419
4. Prince Fielder .416
5. Dmitri Young .335
6. Todd Helton .324
7. James Loney .312

There’s some names you might recognize on that list, including surefire Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, surefire Hall of Famer Todd Helton, damned good chance at being a Hall of Famer Mark Teixeira, possible NL MVP Prince Fielder.. and the completely inexplicable Carlos Pena and Dmitri Young.

So despite being only 23 and obviously still adjusting to life in the bigs, James Loney is, by this measure, the 7th best first baseman in baseball. This does not take into account defense, which is also a huge strength of his.

Oh, and the names just after his on that list? You may have heard of these guys, too:

8. Ryan Howard .310
9. Derrek Lee .291
11. Lance Berkman .251
13. Justin Morneau .233 

There’s no more “when Loney is ready”. Loney’s ready NOW. He’s already one of the most valuable players at his position in baseball¬†- and that’s not even considering his age, defense, and low salary.

(By the way, Nomar on that list? 42nd. He loses -0.023 VORP molecules each time he hits. Can you imagine where we’d be if Loney was playing from Day 1? Excuse me while I jam my thumbs into my own eyes.)

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg