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Jamey Lotchman

James Loney is off to a scorching start. Will he keep it up or will he return to his Casey Kotchman level of production?


A close friend of mine is a transplant from Tampa, Florida and is the biggest Tampa Bay Rays fan I know (not such an amazing feat in central Pennsylvania). We went golfing together on Saturday and somewhere in between muttering expletives and raking sand traps we found some time to talk about baseball. Naturally, we had to discuss James Loney's flurry of multi-hit games and his Ted Williamsesque batting average. While my friend was very excited about what Loney was doing he made the comment, "He just reminds me so much of Casey Kotchman," prompting the term Jamey Lotchman. I don't know if it was all of Yuengling Lager or my eagerness to laugh at something other than my putting, but I found this pretty funny. This morning I decided to actually look into the validity of this comment while trying to make sense of what Loney has been doing and the similarities are uncanny.

I started my comparison by looking at both players' Baseball-Reference pages and the first thing I noticed was that they both are left handed hitting and throwing first baseman who stand 6'3" and are listed as weighing 220 lbs. Weird. And it doesn't stop there. Both were drafted out of high school - Kotchman went to the Angels as the 13th overall pick in 2001 and Loney was drafted 19th overall by the Dodgers in 2002. They both made their major league debuts at age 21 and earned spots their team's postseason roster. And, still, there's more.

Both Loney and Kotchman are very good defensive first baseman with similar offensive profiles. Although Kotchman was projected to have a bit more power than Loney, it never really showed up during games. Both players use the entire field, spraying balls to the gaps and hitting their share of doubles. They both receive praise for their selectivity and knowledge of the strike zone. Neither Loney, nor Kotchman has even average speed but Loney does have a 10 stolen base season under his belt. Finally, Loney and Kotchman are separated by only 19 points in Baseball-Reference's (originally Bill James') Similarity Score.

Here are the 162 game averages for the two players:





























































As you can see above, Loney has been a bit better than Kotchman over his career posting an OPS+ of 105 compared to Kotchman's 94. The two are separated by only .049 in OPS with the big difference coming in slugging percentage. Although Kotchman has been somewhat of a journeyman throughout his career, he hasn't had the advantage of hitting in many favorable parks. Simlarly, Loney has played the majority of his career as a Dodger and, now that he's a Ray, his hitting environment did not get any better.

Kotchman actually had the best season of his career in Tampa Bay posting career highs in WAR, wOBA, and OPS. It seems as though a lot of Kotchman's success was buoyed by his .335 BABIP, a mark that is almost .060 higher than his career average. Loney is on his way to blowing his career numbers out of the water and, unlike Kotchman, some of the improvement may be for real. Loney is hitting .398 and leads the league in three hit games. Loney's BABIP is inflated in its own right, but Loney's LD% so far this year is 35.7% which shows that he's hitting the ball better than he ever has. While his line drive rate is sure to regress, Loney has always hit an above average amount of line drives. Add the fact that he has a strong walk rate and doesn't strike out and it seems, although It's highly unlikely that he flirts with .400 all season, Loney is a safe bet to help you in batting average.

Unfortunately, aside from batting average Loney doesn't offer much to fantasy owners. As previously mentioned, he is a below average runner, stealing just 4 bases over the last two seasons combined. Knowing what you will or won't get from Loney is important and that's what makes the last three categories difficult to project. Loney doesn't offer much in terms of power as his flat swing produces a high percentage of ground balls (43.0% career). According to FanGraphs, Tropicana field has been below league average in HR park factors and one of the lowest run producing venues in the league over the past five seasons. While Loney may be able to take advantage of the large outfield and pepper the gaps, he won't put many balls over the fence and is currently on pace for only 5 home runs.

Runs and RBIs will make or break Loney's value as a fantasy option. While he certainly won't produce enough to be a starting first baseman in anything but the deepest of AL Only leagues, he may be able to serve a purpose as a corner infield slot in some deep leagues or a matchup play in leagues with daily rosters. From 2008-2010, Loney averaged 89 RBIs and 69 Runs scored for the Dodgers but hasn't sniffed those numbers in the two seasons since. During that same time frame, Loney hit .308 and .261, respectively, with runners in scoring position. This year Loney is hitting .500 with runners on second and third base and is projecting to finish the year with 81 RBIs, if he keeps it up. The Rays are 15th in the league in runs scored and 21st in total bases. Furthermore, they aren't running as much as they have in previous years limiting the amount of runners who reach second base. Loney has been hitting in the five spot in the order and Rays' 1-4 hitters are batting .255 on the year. Loney is on pace for 81 RBIs and, while I don't think it's likely that he reaches 80,I think setting the bar at 70 is safe given his probable regression offset by the belief that the Rays will start hitting a little better.

As poorly as the Rays' top half of the order has hit so far this year, the bottom half has been equally dreadful batting .222. The bottom of the Rays' order has struggled but even if they are able to turn it around, the signs don't point to Loney crossing the plate much. Again, his lack of power and speed will hurt him. On the other hand, Loney has increased his walk rate and reduced the number of pitches he swings at out of the zone. This means he should be on base plenty of times with the opportunity to score. He's a smart base runner so what he lacks in pure speed, he is able to compensate a little bit with good reads and instincts.

Finally, I'm a believer in Joe Maddon and the Rays. They somehow always find a way to get the most out of their players. Although we can't quantify it, I don't think we should ignore it. When evaluating players who are new to the Rays, I will almost always bet on a slight uptick in value. One of the reasons for Loney's performance, however, may not benefit fantasy owners as much as it does the Rays. Joe Maddon is a big proponent of platoons and believes in putting players in positions to succeed. This means that Loney will see the majority of his at bats come against right handers. This limits his fantasy value since it reduces his at bats and can leave owners without stats from an important position for a couple games a week. Loney is a decent corner infield play in deep AL Only leagues as I think he finishes the year with an average around .300 with 70+ RBIs and 65 runs or so. If you are in a deep daily league and have the roster size and flexibility to "stream", Loney could be a nice option, as well. For those of you in shallower leagues or leagues with weekly lineups, Loney's value takes a hit and I don't see him as anything more than an injury replacement. So if you need a fill in or fit one of these criteria, consider Jamey Lotchman as he's available in most leagues.