Apparently, Yesterday Was a Turning Point for James Loney…


….since all three major Dodger beat writers – Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times, Tony Jackson of ESPNLA, and Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com -  have written stories in the last 12 hours about Loney’s disappointing season and tenuous future in Los Angeles.

Hernandez:

Mattingly said he doesn’t know which player is the real Loney.

But as far out of first place as the Dodgers might be, Mattingly said he hasn’t reached the point at which he would play Loney every day for the sake of finding out the answer to that question.

While Mattingly maintained that Loney could still be the player he was at the end of last season, he appears to be ready to concede that he might not ever become a home-run threat.

Loney hit 15 home runs in 96 games as a rookie in 2007 but only 36 over the next three seasons. He has four home runs this year.

“It hasn’t to this point and it’s been a while,” Mattingly said.

Jackson:

James Loney is making $4.875 million this year, and he has one more winter of arbitration eligibility. Simple logic would suggest that the Dodgers won’t go there with him this year, that if he doesn’t agree to a salary for 2012 far below the roughly $5.5 million he would stand to make through arbitration, they will simply bid him adieu.

The Dodgers need to add power to their punchless lineup. Even if Andre Ethier gets back to his normal home run production next year to complement Kemp, they still need a third big bat. It doesn’t appear as if Loney is ever going to be that guy, and given that he plays what traditionally is a power position, the Dodgers would have to add a power bat at a non-power position — perhaps a Jeff Kent-type player at second or a Cal Ripken type at short — to make up for that.

Gurnick:

James Loney is having his worst season after a bad second half last year, and he’s not even the everyday first baseman anymore, manager Don Mattingly saying Loney will continue to share time with Juan Rivera when Rivera isn’t playing left field.

All of that means Loney is at the top of the list of likely non-tender candidates come December, as the Dodgers are unlikely to pay him a raise from the $4.875 million he receives this year.

“It was a bad month for me last month [.176, five RBIs] and we’re trying to win baseball games,” Loney said, understanding of his reduced playing time. “They know I can play better than I have over this year.

The impetus for this sudden barrage, it seems, was Loney’s split-second appearance as a pinch-hitter in the 7th inning of Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to San Diego. With men on second and third and one out, Loney came up to hit for pitcher Ted Lilly. San Diego manager Bud Black removed starting pitcher Tim Stauffer in favor of rookie lefty reliever Josh Spence. Don Mattingly countered by immediately replacing Loney with Casey Blake, so while Loney’s name appears in the box score, he never actually played. On the surface, it seemed innocuous enough – Loney’s struggles against lefties are well-known, and Spence has allowed just five hits in 38 plate appearances against fellow southpaws this year, with a 15/0 K/BB, so there’s no reason Loney should have hit there. (Blake was intentionally walked, and Dee Gordon and Aaron Miles each failed to get anyone home, as you likely inferred by the fact that the Dodgers were shut out.)

But since Loney was once an “RBI threat” – whatever that means – apparently the fact that he wasn’t allowed to hit in a situation with men in scoring position late in the game is the clearest sign yet of his fall from grace. Perhaps it is, though Loney’s struggles have been well-documented here going back at least two years. Remember how bad he was in April, when we were all talking about how bad his season would be on a historical scale? Yeah, after a dead cat bounce in June – which I dutifully praised him for – his July was worse than ever:

Split G PA H 2B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 28 112 22 1 1 12 5 16 .210 .241 .248 .489
May 28 100 27 5 2 6 7 5 .293 .350 .413 .763
June 25 97 30 3 1 10 7 12 .337 .381 .404 .786
July 25 81 13 4 0 5 5 10 .176 .225 .230 .455
August 3 7 0 0 0 1 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/4/2011.

The total there is good enough for the 10th-worst OPS in MLB, and other than the inexplicable collapse of Adam Dunn, every single one of the guys performing worse than Loney are up the middle players, either 2B, SS, or CF. We could cite any number of stats pointing out his ineptitude – among players with as many PA as Loney has, he’s the 6th worst player by TAv – but in this case it’s not really necessary, because the eye test is clearly good enough.

Getting pinch-hit for in the late innings of a close game or not, it’s clear that Loney’s tenure as a Dodger is coming to an end. To his credit, his quotes in the above stories reflect a player who understands that he hasn’t been performing, and I’d also praise Mattingly for not slavishly continuing to play him every day when the production isn’t there. Loney’s an all-but-guaranteed non-tender following the season, though it should be noted there’s no obvious replacement for him in 2012, either.

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