In the last 21 years, nine players have regularly called first base their home for the Tampa Bay Rays (and Devil Rays). When compared to the ballclub’s messy turnover rate at catcher, first base has enjoyed relative stability. In fact, selecting the top five Rays to play the position was easy. Ranking their individual performances proved a lot trickier. Relying on Baseball-Reference.com for the numbers and my own opinionated heart for the rest, here are one fan’s picks, from worst to first, for the High-Five of Tampa Bay First Basemen.
No. 5: James Loney
The Tampa Bay Numbers:
Home runs: 26
Batting average: .291
Fielding percentage: .993
James Loney was not flashy. He was quiet, unassuming, sharp with the glove and steady at the plate. In other words, he was not your typical first baseman. For a position that normally demands a powerful bat, an unwavering ability to drive in runs and only minimal defensive skill, Loney never fit the bill. Yet, here he is as the fifth best Rays’ first baseman. How could that be?
Simple. Loney was good.
The Houston, TX native played three seasons with the Rays, from 2013-15. He arrived in Tampa Bay as a free agent in December 2012. Loney had spent all but three months of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers as their starting first baseman. Although he finished 6th in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2007, his numbers had flattened afterwards. The Rays jumped at the opportunity to sign Loney to a one-year deal at a bargain price.
Loney exceeded all expectations in 2013. In 158 games and 549 AB with Tampa Bay, he hit .299 with 164 H, 13 HR and 75 RBI. Defensively, Loney also shone, collecting only seven errors in 1,308 chances for a .995 fielding percentage. In the Rays’ trip to the postseason, he hit .417 in the ALDS against Boston and went 1-4 in the one-game Wild Card matchup against Cleveland.
The Rays rewarded Loney with a three-year, $21 million contract the following offseason.
In 2014, Loney put up similar numbers, only dropping slightly in offensive numbers (.290 BA, 174 H, 9 HR and 69 RBI). His defensive game also dipped, though. The fielding percentage fell to .992 with nine errors in 1,178 chances. His WAR which had been 2.1 in 2013 was only 1.5 in 2014.
Injuries claimed all but 104 games of Loney’s 2015. His WAR dropped to -0.5. He only hit 4 HR and drove in just 32 RBI in his 361 at-bats. Adding salt to the wound, he committed six errors in his 101 games at first base.
After acquiring Steve Pearce and Logan Morrison the following offseason, the Rays opened spring training of 2016 with no set-in-stone first basemen. Morrison won the job, and Tampa Bay released Loney in April of 2016.
Only two other men in franchise history have played more games at first base for Tampa Bay than James Loney. That matters. No, his numbers were never flashy, but they anchored both the lineup and the infield for the Rays for the bulk of three seasons. Few others can claim such an accomplishment. For that, James Loney has earned the No. 5 spot on the Tampa Bay High-Five of First Basemen.
Tomorrow, the Trop’s power outage at first base ends with No. 4 of the High-Five. Join the conversation on Twitter!