MSTI.com’s 2008 In Review: First Base

Welcome to day 2 of MSTI’s 2008 Season In Review.  Today, we continue on the diamond to first base, where we evaluate first base, beginning with Crazy Legs James Loney.
Now before I get into this, let us get some perspective.  Last year, in our reviews, I gave James an “A Fucking Plus” (the “fucking” part, of course, gave some authority!) due to his monster 2007 season where he put up just Godly numbers (.331/.381/.538), especially a sick September, where he hit .382/.429/.709 with 9 HR’s.
In fact, here was most of my 2008 outlook on James:

2008 Outlook: I don’t necessarily think that the James Loney that we saw this past September is the one we’ll see all year in 2008 (he did finish 2007 with a .352 BABIP), however, I don’t see James being all that far off, either. Simply put, he is such an awesome hitter. The ball just explodes off his bat and even his outs seem to be hit hard. I fully expect 2008 to be the first of many years that he will compete for batting titles along with Gold Gloves.

Err… O.K., so maybe not quite 2008.  Which brings us to our final grade:
James Loney = D+

(.289/.338/.434, 13 HR’s, 90 RBI’s)
I know, I know… “how dare you, Vin!  What, do you secretly wear a Nomar jersey to bed, every night?!”  I don’t, but I do want to clarify a few things.  First off, this was a hard grade to give and I’m more somewhere between D+/C-, and even I wasn’t expecting to give this grade, until I looked through everything.  Secondly, keep in mind that when I make this grade, it isn’t to say that he had this really crappy year.  He didn’t.  However, on the other hand, when I look at his overall numbers and after watching him this year, my reaction to his 2008 season was more… meh?  For someone who had such a strong season in 2007 after building some solid foundation to end an impressionable, albeit brief, 2006, you expected him to continue on that plateau, but, instead, like Russell Martin, took a step back this season.  In fact, they’re similar cases.  Because of their previous years, high expectations were set, but, alas, neither succeeded in fulfilling them.  And remember, we primarily base these grades relative to expectations.
So why the D+?  Well, as much as it pains me to say it, in 2008, James Loney was one of the worst first baseman in the National League.
It’s really hard to say it, because he started off the year so promising.  Remember, he began his 2008 campaign with a 15 game hitting streak and did have some torrid months in June (.362/.425/.500) and August (.330/.371/.468), but, alas, these are also inbetween a decent month (July = .277/.343/.479), a couple of below average months (April = .272/.322/.398, May = .267/.315/.446) and just a downright terrible month (September = .209/.229/.297).  Amongst NL first baseman to have at least 450 at bats, Loney ranked dead last in VORP (17.0) and MLV.  I know, I know… you must be asking: “What is this MLV you talk about, Vin, you nerd you?”  Well, basically, what MLV shows is how many additional runs a player adds over the course of a season if you had a lineup of completely average players. For instance, Albert Pujols was the best first baseman in the NL, and he added 89.2 runs above average.  Loney added 9.8 runs over the course of the season, the only NL first baseman to be in single digits in this category.  Just to illustrate the drop from last year, in 2007, Loney had a VORP of 30.7 to rank him 9th amongst NL first baseman with at least 350 at-bats (if 450, he wouldn’t have qualified due to not being called up until June), and also ranked 9th in MLV at 25.7.  His EqA this year was .269 (league average is .260) which is a drop from his .305 EqA of 2007.
But even if you’re into the more traditional stats, Loney doesn’t fare much better.  His .289 batting average was quite good, but it’s marred by his low .338 OBP, which ranks him 2nd to last amongst NL first baseman and also a big drop from his sweet .381 OBP, last season.  His slugging percentage of .434 also ranks him last amongst NL first baseman, and is a .104 point drop off from his .538 SLG%, last year and his 102 OPS+ (100 is average) is a big drop from his OPS+ of 131, last year.  His RC27 (basically, how many runs a full team of James Loneys would score per game, hence the 27, as there are 27 outs in a 9 inning game) dropped from 7.9 in 2007 to 4.7 in 2008.
Still, while he wasn’t particularly productive relative to his peers at first base, he was still a bit more productive relative to his team, albeit the results are still somewhat disappointing.  Amongst Dodgers who have enough at-bats to compete for the batting title (which counts Manny out, since he wasn’t here long enough), there are four: Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and James Loney.  Remember, we had some shuffling at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and CF (which raises the question: how the hell did we make the NLCS again?!), so that explains the low number.  Still, with this criteria, Loney ranked 3rd in BA (.289), 4th in OBP (.338), 3rd in SLG% (.434), 4th in OPS (.772), tied for 4th in HR’s (13, also Martin’s total), but, to his credit, ranked 1st with 90 RBI’s.  And, as we’ve said before, yet another reason not to take RBI’s as an indicator of a player’s value.
So, it’s safe to say: the bat just didn’t cut it, this year.  However, when we turn to look at the defensive side of things, we get a much different story.  As has been said before and probably will many times again, defensive statistics are a bit murky and are not as definitive as offensive statistics.  So, what do we do?  Well, we can look at how other players relative to his position are doing and get a general idea of what’s going on, as well as using some of various statistics.  So, let’s do that:
Amongst all qualified NL first baseman, James Loney ranked 7th in fielding percentage at .991 (Berkman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pujols are tied for 1st at .996), while ranking 2nd only to Pujols in Range Factor at 9.81.  His Zone Rating isn’t as high, though, as Loney ranks 7th at .857.  His Rate2 is 101 (100 is league average).  The good news about all of these statistics is that they are all upward trends from 2007.  In 2007, Loney had a fielding percentage of .989, a Range Factor of 9.13, a Zone Rating of .809 and a Rate2 of 100.  So we’ve seen some improvement in areas; some far bigger than others.
So, when we put all these fangled statistics together, what do we get?  Well, simply, we get a player who had a regression and, offensively, was average at best.  But don’t get me wrong: I still love James Loney and have hope, and while this season does give me some slight concerns going forward, I am mostly optimistic.  He will barely turn 25 at the beginning of 2009 and let’s remember: despite the fact that he’s been up with the Dodgers in some capacity since 2006, this was his first full season.  That does take some adjustment and it is unreasonable to expect him to start becoming Don Mattingly reincarnate so soon, despite his flashes of brilliance.  But, while we weren’t expecting Mattinglyesque numbers, we did expect better, hence the grade.  Though speaking of flashes of brilliance, even though postseason performance doesn’t factor into grades, the “old Loney,” if you will, did show up with the big grand slam in game 1 of the NLDS and was one of the very few who decided to show up for the NLCS, going 7-16. So we at MSTI give James big props for that.  And, also… speaking of Mattingly, I do like the fact that he is paired up with Loney now and as James advances forward with a full season under his belt, I do expect an improved 2009.
God, I hope my prediction doesn’t turn out as crappy as last year; that one defined crapulence, I think.
Speaking of crapulence, this brings us to…
Mark Sweeney = F-
(.190/.250/.163, 0 HR’s, 5 RBI’s)
So you might say: “Vin, you DO know Sweeney only had 92 AB’s this year, right?”  Yes, I say.  But, like Gary Bennett, he was so fucking crappy this season, he HAS to get some sort of grade.  And so he does.  And, yes, the “-” part of the grade is tongue and cheek, although if I could go lower, I would.  But we’re saving that for another person… guess who!  But back to Sweeney…
I admit… after watching Sweeney play this year, I think I have officially run out of different ways to describe his sucktitude.
Actually, no, I haven’t.  He was sucky.  Shitty.  Shitty McShitty.  A waste of roster space, and, hey, even Olmedo Saenz version 2007 was better.
I mean, do I really need to show you all these fancy statistics to demonstrate why he was so miserable?  He couldn’t hit lefties, righties, at home or away.  In fact, the only associations I have with the words “hit” and “Sweeney” were most of the 92 times this year he made me want to hit a freaking bong after the painful at-bats he would give us.
However, while we have liked to rag Sweeney, because 1. it’s usually justified and 2. it’s just too damn fun, I do put quite a lot of blame on Joe Torre for this one.  While Sweeney can’t help the fact that he, well, sucks now, it’s not like he’s going to refuse to go up to the plate if he’s asked.  Torre had complete control on who would be in the lead pinch hitting role and he continued to send Sweeney out there, due to “swing paths,” “body language” and “demeanor,” rather than… I don’t know… whether he could hit the ball or not.
Yes, I have to ask again: how the hell did we make the NLCS?
To Torre’s credit, though, he did finally get it once the postseason started and regulated Sweeney to the more apt role: cheerleader.  Awesome, but, still, that move should have happened by at least June.
Outside of a brief moment of douchebaggery this season, Sweeney does seem to be a good guy and one of the pranksters in the clubhouse.  He’s had a very good career, but all careers come to an end, and it’s time for him to hang it up.  Or at least play for another team…
See ya, Sweeney Poo…

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg

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