Time to Move James Loney Up the Batting Order

By David Hill

Through the first seventeen games of the season, if one felt that the Rays were not getting any production out of the second spot in their lineup, they would be sort of correct. Even though the Rays number two hitters have been getting on base at a .311 clip, or the same rate as Desmond Jennings, there just does not feel to be the same level of expectations when the second batter come to the plate. Perhaps this is due to the improvements in his approach that Jennings has made thus far, as he is working counts and drawing walks. While those in the second spot of the lineup have taken the walk, that has been their primary way of getting on base, as that spot in the lineup has only produced a .164 batting average, worst in the American League.

Thus far, Joe Maddon has utilized started six different players in that spot in the lineup, with Kelly Johnson and Ben Zobrist being the most productive. Even then, those two lead the team with a .200 batting average as the second hitter. Sam Fuld, who has gotten the most time batting second, has produced a .118/.118/.118 batting line in 17 at bats.

For the Rays offense to continue their recent performance, they likely need better production from that spot in the lineup, as getting people on base in front of Evan Longoria is key. Zobrist would likely be a decent choice at that spot, but as the only other proven run producer in the lineup, he is a better fit behind Longoria.

The problem may be that the Rays do not have the traditional definition of a second hitter in their lineup. Traditionally, the second spot is occupied by someone with great bat control and an ability to put the ball in play consistently. The closest that the Rays have to that player is likely Zobrist, but he is needed to protect Longoria.

Perhaps the best fit currently on the roster may be James Loney. Loney may not hit for much power, but he has been good at putting the ball in play. Over his career, Loney has struck out in only 12.2% of his at bats, far below the major league average of 18.1%. He has also taken walks at a roughly league average clip, and has been swinging a hot bat as of late. Chances are, the second spot in the lineup will be in a state of flux all season, but Loney may be the best option at this point.

Being able to put more runners on base in front of Longoria and Zobrist would certainly help the offense continue to improve. For right now, moving James Loney up in the order may be the best way to do just that.