Scouring the ADP List: James Loney

Hey, where are you going? I know it's James Loney, but hear me out.

Dodgers' general manager Ned Colletti has faith in James Loney this year. Normally, Colletti havin faith in a player might be a sign you don't want him, but, despite the player and GM involved, Colletti might be on to something here. Alternatively, we can see who doesn't have faith in Loney, and that's fantasy owners. According to Mock Draft Central, Loney's average draft position (ADP) is 247, and the earliest he has been selected is at 201. Standard mixed leagues (12 teams, 23-man rosters before reserve picks) have 276 players, so Loney has been targeted very late.

And it's understandable why he would be. First base is the most offense-heavy position on the diamond, and Loney has hit all of .281/.341/.411 the last four seasons at a position where last year's average first baseman hit .271/.345/.452. That's not acceptable in real baseball, never mind fantasy, where replacement level and averages are higher due to the use of fewer players.

Where am I going with this? Let's take a look at the last two months of Loney's 2011: in his last 192 plate appearances, he hit .357/.416/.608 and clubbed eight of his 12 homers. He succeeded against his fellow southpaws, too, posting a .477 slugging during that stretch.

It's just 192 plate appearances, so let's not get too carried away -- Loney wouldn't be the first bad hitter to finish a season strong only to disappoint the next year. (Mark Teahen says hi.) The reason to keep Loney in mind is that he got a new hitting coach last year, possibly changed his approach, and started to pull the ball more often -- and effectively. If he can keep that up, and this is legitimate progress, then all of a sudden there's an extra useful first baseman out there in the wild, ignored by almost all owners until the very end of drafts.

You want details on the switch? Chad Moriyama's got them:

Since the change in hitting coach, Loney has been pulling the ball at quite an epic rate. Prior to the switch, his distribution to right was well below 30%, but since then, he's up close to 37%. It marks a clear change in distribution that becomes increasingly obvious when you look at the month by month progression.

--snip--

For one, he's more closed off in August than April, preventing him from firing his front shoulder and hips early, sapping his power. You can partially see the effort to keep his weight back as well, as he aims to load on his back foot more in August than April.

Secondly, he's bent at the waist at a more acute angle. Generally speaking, I find this change a matter of comfort and preference, but when you make this switch, it helps the hitter remain more compact and keeps the swing shorter to the ball.

The whole article is worth reading, as it's a detailed look at Loney before and after, and why maybe, just maybe, there's something to his new approach and the resulting production.

Am I suggesting you go out of your way to pick up Loney ahead of other first baseman? Of course not -- he's still James Loney, and he hit .288/.339/.416 last year even with the nigh-200 plate appearance surge of awesome. However, given he's getting drafted, on average, around round 20 or 21, you can get away with remembering that he exists, rather than running like you might have been prepared to do. If he doesn't come through, you used a late pick on an opportunity. If he does come through, well, you've got yourself another player capable of hitting, and you snagged him late.

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