Two is Better Than One: The Loney-Rodriguez Platoon | The Process Report

Two is Better Than One: The Loney-Rodriguez Platoon

After a collective sputter out of the gate, the Rays sit in the middle of the pack as a slightly above-average offensive club. Evan Longoria continues to lead the way but unlikely production from a first-base platoon, consisting of James Loney and Sean Rodriguez, has provided surprising support.

At the close of business on Sunday, Rays’ first basemen combined to hit .374/.422/.533 in 116 plate appearances. That placed them third in the league behind the Chris Davis-led Orioles and the Prince Fielder-led Tigers. Of the 116 plate appearances James Loney and his part-time partner, Sean Rodriguez, accounted for 106 trips to the plate as first basemen.

Loney was one of April’s biggest surprises, and has carried it over to May. Through 90 plate appearances, he boasts a .398/.444/.542 line with seven three-hit games under his belt. He has nearly as many extra-base hits (nine) as he does strike outs (10). Sure, a .398 average is unsustainable  however, there are some things that may help him remain an above-average performer.

The hot start by Loney can be attributed to a few factors. He has talked about watching video of past seasons to find some consistency in his swing. This may include a re-dedication to a higher leg kick; a mechanism that could lend to better timing and added lift on the ball. His balanced stroke and supreme bat control has led to nearly even hit distribution across the field. Overall, he is making excellent contact, but even more so on pitches in the strike zone.

It also helps that Loney has faced a right-handed pitcher in nearly 90 percent of his plate appearances. Though he has collected seven hits in 11 at-bats versus southpaws, the larger career sample says Loney is best kept away from same-siders. From 2010-2012, he hit .218/.256/.299 in 425 plate appearances against lefties. That represented a quarter of his total plate appearances. This year, just 13 percent of his have been against left handed pitchers.

Roster flexibility has allowed Joe Maddon to maximize Loney’s offensive talents. With Ryan Roberts, Ben Zobrist, and Kelly Johnson capable of playing multiple positions on the fly, Maddon has been able to use another utility player – Sean Rodriguez – in a more concentrated manner. Rodriguez started the 2012 as the team’s primary shortstop, but has played mostly first base and left field in 2013. In fact, Sunday’s start at shortstop marked the first time he has played the middle infield this season.

The bulk of Rodriguez playing time thus far has come as a handcuff to Loney. He has made seven starts at first base through 30 team games after logging just five in his career prior to this year. Offensively, Rodriguez has tightened his swing zone, and early signs point to a rebound in production versus left-handed pitchers. The latter makes him an ideal partner for Loney.

The Loney-Rodriguez tandem will not produce at such a high level all season; however, the marriage of skill-sets could lead to continued success even as the sample size increases. Of course, outside factors like health and roster construction will play a role in how strict of a platoon we see. For example, a short bench on Monday means both are likely to start versus the left-handed Mark Buehrle with Rodriguez playing shortstop in the absence of Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist.



One Comment

  1. […] BABIP, and BABIP is quite subject to random fluctuations. Loney is probably also benefiting from being platooned, as would almost […]

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