Getting James Loney, In ScatterPlot

Yesterday I went over a cast of LH first basemen, in order to discover and report who might be available through free agency or trade. One of the things that surprised me while doing this was that James Loney, the 24 year old lefty manning first base for the Dodgers, hit so well outside of his home park.

Over his career, he’s only hit .268/.334/.377 at home, while he’s hit .307/.361/.493 away. That’s not just a little difference, it’s a 143-point OPS difference. I wondered, was this all about the home park? LA is known as a pitchers park, perhaps that’s what taking him down. So I decided to do a simple analysis. I’d take Baseball Reference’s Multi-Year Park Factor and plot it against OPS. Let’s not worry too much about the sausage inside of Park Factor. Instead, just keep in mind that 100 is in the middle, anything below 100 is considered better for pitchers, anything above 100 is better for hitters.

The chart below is Loney’s OPS plotted on the y-axis against the park factor at every park he’s played at and had at least 50 PAs. I figured anywhere lower than that is just too small. Sure, it’s a bit of an arbitrary point, but I don’t have a better way to do it, and anything below 50 seemed EXTREMELY low to me. So that is where I started:

It shows some of what you’d expect – he hits better in those parks that favor hitters. Not a TON better, but it might be a 100 OPS swing between the worst and best parks. But I wasn’t completly comfortable that this was trimmed enough, so I cut the PAs off at a higher number. I was thinking 75 would be a good number, but he had only one stadium in that 70-75 range, so I went with 70. That’s the chart below:

That is a pretty pronounced slope on the trendline. That basically conveys he really does feel those park effects, as you would expect. The slope of the trendline can be illusory – it is somewhat dependent on the axis – but you see it’s might give him an expected .800 OPS in the worst hitters parks and something around .950 in the best (other than Coors). One more chart like this, we’ll look at those where he’s had at least 100 PAs. It’s only those parks in the NL West, for obvious reasons.

Well, that settles it, right? Loney hits much better in those parks that are hitters parks. It’s a little curious because he’s a contact hitter and you’d think the length of the fences wouldn’t be a big deal, but maybe he likes to pop up in foul territory alot as well, and needs parks that forgive on that end.

Before I decided to close the book on this though, I wanted to take out LA. He has such a significant number of his PAs in that stadium (49.6%) that it understandably skews all of the data. Let’s take a look at those parks where he’s had at least 70 PAs, excluding Dodgers Stadium:

Ok, now I’m confused. Parks effect him much less when you take out Dodgers stadium. Part of that is from taking away any amount of this sample. But just look at that chart. He hits well in 4 of those 6 places. 2 he hits poorly in, and 1 of those is the best pitchers park in baseball. Maybe there is more to this than just the parks. He SHOULD hit well in the real hitters parks. He SHOULD hit poor in the real pitchers parks. But everywhere else, maybe he’s not such a bad hitter. Maybe part of his poor hitting at Dodgers stadium is more than just it’s park effects. Maybe there’s a mental effect on him. Maybe there’s something we can’t measure.

I don’t have an answer for this. The tertiary glance at his .711 home OPS vs. his .854 away OPS is maybe the most telling stat of all. For whatever reason, he can’t hit at home, and hits better elsewhere. Of course, the team that wants him might have to look at their own park effects. Washington is relatively neutral, so maybe 82 games there would make him comfortable to be that .854 OPS hitter most of the time.

Here’s What I Think

I was thinking of at first leaving with the open question about what we found here. What does this show? Is it evidence of something? But I guess I have some responsibility to tell you what this tells me. What I see is a hitter that does feel some park effects, like any hitter does. But he is someone who is overwhelmed by his home park, and hits poorly there not only because of the park itself. He also hits poorly there because he does not think he can hit there. Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, he knows LA is a hard place to hit, and the park has extra effects on him.

I think if given the right situation, he could blossom. He doesn’t necessarily need to go to the Rockies to be a good hitter, either. He could be effective with 25 or so different home stadiums. So maybe someone out there, such as the Nationals, should be looking to acquire a young LH 1B (with two more years of control) in a reasonable trade.

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