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James Loney: Does He Need A Change of Scenery?

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I did not rank Dodgers first baseman James Loney in my Early Top 20 First Base Rankings, which will publish next Monday. Not a surprise, I am sure. He just doesn't hit for enough power to be ranked amongst the Top 20 fantasy first baseman.

As a Dodgers fan, I have held out hope that Loney would start hitting for power one of these years. But year after year, he would disappoint. Here are his HR/ISO/SLG splits since 2007, when he became a major league regular:

2007- 15/.206/.538

2008- 13/.145/.434

2009- 13/.118/.399

2010- 10/.128/.395

2011- 12/.128/.416

His power has been on a steady slide since his rookie year, and now Loney is in danger of being non-tendered this offseason. I think I read that the Dodgers have to make a decision to tender him a contract by December 12th. I would not be surprised to see him non-tendered. 

And that may be exactly what Loney, and fantasy owners, need for him to start flashing more power at the plate. 

More on Loney after the jump:

It is no secret that Loney's home ballpark, Dodger Stadium, suppresses home runs, and is where fly balls go to die, or get caught. Digging deeper into Loney's home/road stats tell a story of a hitter who could benefit from a change in scenery, as in being non-tendered and signed to start elsewhere.

Here are his career home/road splits for HR/2B/BA/OBP/SLG

Home- 25 HR/64 2B/.272/.335/.385

Away- 42 HR/91 2B/.302/.357/.479

That's quite a difference in his triple slash stats and could make Loney valuable for a team looking for a first baseman this offseason. That and his surprising power surge in August and September. Here are his HR/BA/OBP/SLG splits:

August- 5 HRs, 15 RBI, .367/.433/.633/1.066 

September- 3 HRs, 17 RBI, .348/.400/.587/987

What fantasy owners will have to decide is whether his second half power surge is real, and this article from ESPN's Tony Jackson may convince you that it is. Jackson wrote an article on September 17th, discussing Loney's power surge:

And then, Loney's season turned on a dime.

From opening day through July 19 -- the day of the Dodgers' 97th game of the season -- Loney hit .263 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 31 RBIs, posted a .310 on-base percentage and drew 23 walks while striking out 41 times. From July 20 until now -- a stretch of 53 games on the schedule -- he has batted .300 with 12 doubles, six homers and 21 RBI, posted a .363 OBP and walked 17 times while striking out just 22.

So what changed July 20?

Well, for one thing, the Dodgers changed hitting coaches that day, firing Jeff Pentland after just half a season as the primary guy and promoting Dave Hansen to that role. Was it a coincidence?

"It's hard to put it on that," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I don't think we have tried to change anything with James [under Hansen]. We're just trying to get him to be a little more aggressive and get the head out a little bit more."

Jackson went on to quote Dodgers GM Ned Colletti who said that Loney's second half power display may change his mind about Loney's future in LA. That may not be what fantasy owners want to hear, especially after seeing his career home/road stats, but Colletti has also stated he wants to add a big bat in the middle of the lineup this offseason, and there are a couple of guys named Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. And they both play first base. 

What teams would have interest in Loney in 2012? Well, the Cardinals have Lance Berkman already lined up to play first base should Pujols leave. How about the Brewers? We all know Fielder is leaving to the highest bidder, and Brewers management may not be sold on prospect Mat Gamel. Plus, the Brewers could be looking to upgrade their defense after their poor showing in the playoffs.

Another team that might have interest are the Nationals. The Nationals as a team strike out alot and Loney would provide them with a better contact hitter in the lower half of their lineup., and as stated, is very good defensively.

We will learn by December 12th whether Loney will be a Dodger in 2012, and if not, he could be a late round pick who could outperform his draft round in the right situation. A change of scenery may benefit Loney and fantasy owners in 2012.