James Loney (C)
(.281/.357/.399 13hr 90rbi)
Check this out. In 2008, Loney had 651 plate appearances. In 2009? 651. In 2008, he had 13 homers, 90 RBI, and 7 steals. In 2009? Exactly the same. Not only did the mainline numbers on the back of his baseball card (you know, if anyone still collected baseball cards) describe what’s becoming an exactly average James Loney season, he ended up with a 100 OPS+, making him a league-average hitter. So what we have here is pretty much exactly what we said about him last year; he’s not been bad (ludicrous home/road splits aside), but nor has he been all that spectacular. He’s been average, hence the average grade.
Of course, having a first baseman who hits for a 100 OPS+ isn’t exactly a good thing, because first basemen are expected to provide big offense. In a league with mashers like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, etc., being “average” for the league actually means you’re one of the lesser lights at that position. The numbers bear that out; his .756 OPS was 13th of 14 qualified NL 1B, ahead of only Mets injury replacement Daniel Murphy. In VORP, he was the 25th best 1B in all of baseball. Clearly the bar is set pretty high here, but merely being “okay” puts the Dodgers behind the curve at the position as compared to nearly every other team.
So it’s no surprise that his name has come up in possible trade rumors to get more power at first base, occasionally for guys like San Diego’s Gonzalez. Still, there is some reason for optimism here. Starting in mid-August (possibly after Bob Schaefer made him stop wearing his mouthguard) Loney ended the year on a scorching hot streak, hitting .317/.391/.455 in September before hitting .353 with 2 homers in the NLCS – which, by the way, continues his history of being outstanding in October. In 70 PA across 5 playoff series, his line is .349/.414/.540. That’s performance you can live with.
But it’s more than just his playoff history that gives me hope. When I noted that his stats in 2009 looked almost identical to 2008, I purposely didn’t mention one aspect that changed immensely, and that’s his K/BB ratio. In 2008, he struck out 85 times and drew 45 walks, which in an era where some guys strike out 200+ times is actually pretty good. This year? He actually drew more walks than K’s, 70 to 68. Considering that he’s still just going to be 25 when Opening Day 2010 rolls around, what that says to me is we have a young player who’s still improving his command of the strike zone. I’ll admit that the fact that his SLG dropped 35 points from ’08 to ’09 is worrisome, but when you have a guy with his pedigree who’s showing such improvement in pitch recognition – and is still so young – I think he really could be in line for a huge breakout next year, especially with how hot he ended the year.
That’s a great sign, because while I think the Dodgers will poke around to find a power upgrade at 1B, between the tight payroll situation and bigger holes at 2B and the rotation, I don’t really see much of a chance for them to acquire a superstar first baseman. Loney probably gets one more chance to prove that he’s still got more to offer, and the stars are aligned for him to take that step forward.
Doug Mientkiewicz (inc.)
(.333/.400/.389 0hr 3rbi)
Joe Torre favorite and noted Twitter enthusiast ”Eyechart” Mientkiewicz didn’t really get much of a chance to contribute this year, getting just 20 plate appearances before and after missing five months after destroying his shoulder in mid-April. So, that puts him at somewhere around “37th most important Dodger of 2009″.
Which is about right, and that’s fine. Mientkiewicz is a nice player, but just not for this team. As I said when Delwyn Young was traded:
No, the mistake here is in allowing a talented young player to be pushed off the roster for the sake of keeping superfluous older veterans. Do we really think that Juan Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz are going to help this team more than Delwyn Young? And the thing is, I actually like Doug Mientkiewicz, but the fact is that he’s completely unneccessary on this team. It’s not just the two strikeouts in his three hitless at-bats, it’s the fact that he’s a good-fielding first baseman – something this team already has. It’s not even that important to have him around as a backup in case James Loney goes down, because you could simply move Casey Blake across the diamond and install Blake DeWitt at third base.
It’s been six months since I said that, and I basically feel the exact same way right now – except now he’s going to be 36 and coming off a lost year. Since Torre likes him so much it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see him get at least a token invite to spring training, but hopefully not much more.
Jim Thome (inc.)
(.235/.235/.235 0hr 3rbi)
Yeah, I know. Thome didn’t actually play any first base. But I have to stick him somewhere, right? And it’s appropriate that the picture I have of him on the card is “bench”, because that’s exactly where he spent most of his time in Los Angeles. That said, when the Dodgers went out to get Thome, you could probably say that I approved…
Survey says… Giving up zero talent and (presumably) paying less than $2m for a massive improvement to your bench headed into the playoffs? Oh, you better believe that’s a win.
Of course, it didn’t really work out, as Thome – hobbled by a sore foot – managed just 4 singles in 17 regular season pinch-hitting tries, and then just 1-5 in the postseason. But that’s okay. A big situation never really presented itself to him (he’d surely have been the DH if the team had advanced to the World Series), and I give the Dodgers a lot of credit for taking the chance and making the outlay.
As for Thome? Back to the AL next year, no doubt. I guess we won’t be seeing him enter the Hall of Fame with an LA cap, will we?
Next up: Orlando Hudson! Ronnie Belliard! Saying so long to Tony Abreu! It’s second base!