James Loney: The Tampa Bay Rays’ Mr. Clutch

By Thomas Swan

Clutch seems to be James Loney’s middle name, especially in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform. Nowhere was that proven more than the back end of the doubleheader versus Boston. Twice during the game Loney singled in Sean Rodriguez. The first time, the Rays took the lead 1-0, and the other time tied the game in the eighth inning at a key point for a dramatic comeback. Loney has been a revelation this season and since he has been a Tampa Bay Ray, and he is one of the most important recent acquisitions by Rays GM Andrew Friedman.

Coming into last season, Loney needed a rebound and in a big way. In 2012, between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, Loney struggled across the board. He managed just a .249/.293/.336 line, setting career-lows in all three slash stats. His stock was so low that the Rays were able to get him for one year and just $2 million in the offseason. But Loney rebounded in a major way last year, not only bringing a stable bat, but also bringing a consistent presence at first base.

The knock against Loney has always been his lack of power at a power-oriented position. As Rays fans have seen, however, there is more to offense than just hitting home runs. Loney’s most home runs in a year is 15, but he makes up for it by making an incredible amount of contact. Among major league first basemen who qualified for the batting title, only Edwin Encarnacion had fewer strikeouts than Loney’s 77 last year. Loney also ranked 6th in batting average at .299 and drilled 33 doubles–he was not just making contact, but hitting the ball with authority. Loney has an extra dimension to his game that other first basemen do not have–he can lace a ball the other way with a runner in scoring position and come up with key hit after key hit. Loney may not have those 2 and 3 home run games, but the output day after day is so much more consistent and yet still impressive.  If another first baseman came up in the eighth inning with Rodriguez on second, would the result have been the same? Granted, that player would have been more likely of the two to hit a home run, but he also would have been more likely to come up short.

Loney is never going to be a power guy and that has put a stigma of sorts on his career. The Rays realized that he was being undervalued and gave him a three-year contract. James Loney is an unselfish team player, very good defensively and can chip in with clutch hits. He may not hit 30 home runs or even 20 this year, but the Rays recognize just how much he contributes to their team.