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March 28, 2016

The BP Wayback Machine

Now There Are Zero LaRoches in the Clubhouse

by Baseball Prospectus

Some endings you just don't see coming. And after one (or three) too many articles have been written about the recent saga that pushed him to retire, it's time to celebrate the work of the consistently underrated Adam LaRoche. In honor of his retirement, and to look back at his long and editorialized career, let's review 13 years of BP Annual comments about him, as he grew into a steady performer and a righteous beard.

Year Comment
2016 In about 100 fewer plate appearances than he'd taken with Washington in 2014, LaRoche managed 25 more strikeouts for the 2015 White Sox. He didn't totally lose his grasp on the strike zone and start chasing an inordinate number of bad ones. He didn't see a radically different mix of pitches or pitchers. He didn't try to rebuild his approach. At 35, LaRoche simply Lost It. He swung roughly as often as ever, but missed much more. By the end of the season, pitchers were thoroughly unafraid to challenge him, and they won ever more of those challenges as the year wound down. If he can't find a new way of doing things that accounts for his age, LaRoche's career as an acceptable big-league hitter is over.
2015 Another notch in the belt for Laroche, who reached the 20-homer plateau for the ninth time in the past 10 years (only Miguel Cabrera and David Ortiz have gone 10-for-10). He also maintained a 20-grade beard. The one noticeable difference, however, was the improvement in plate discipline statistics, as LaRoche secured both the second-best walk rate and second-best strikeout rate of his long career. Not surprisingly, this led to his best TAv in five seasons. There's no reason to believe LaRoche will stop being productive over the next couple of seasons for Chicago, even if Father Time (or, God willing, a razor) finally catches up with him.
2014 LaRoche’s regression from a four-win player to a half-win player explains a big chunk of the Nationals' slide. But what explains LaRoche's slide? Against right-handers he was as good as ever, and overall his batted ball profile held mostly steady. But his HR/FB rate dropped by 25 percent as his power stroke disappeared against lefties. He tumbled from his best season against southpaws in 2012 (.825 OPS, .506 slugging) to one of his worst (.566 OPS, .313 slugging). Always streaky, LaRoche matched a brutal April with a white-hot May but couldn’t recover from an ugly July, and by mid-August he was benched against most left-handed starters. He’s locked into one more year at $12 million, with a mutual option for 2015.
2013 Pitching and LaRoche sustained the Nationals in April as they scored a paltry 3.4 runs per game while managing to hold the opposite to just 2.7 runs of their own. LaRoche and Jayson Werth were the only regulars with an OPS north of 713 that month, and LaRoche’s 964 was leaps and bounds ahead of even Werth at 806. He didn’t slow down from there. June was his worst month by OPS at just 718, but seven of his 16 hits were home runs. He picked the perfect time for arguably the best year of his career as he now hopes to cash in on his 2012 success, whether by staying in DC or heading elsewhere. An underrated aspect of the venerable LaRoche is that he also plays sharp defense at first base.
2012 LaRoche had about as rotten a 2011 as you can have—hard shots at defenders, nagging injury that ends up lingering and eventually requires season-ending surgery. Probably even had his luggage lost at some point. He's a gamble that the Nationals have no choice but to take—he's under contract for $8 million, coming off an injury that can really sap production, and getting to an age when players can just drop off a cliff.
2011 If LaRoche was an institution of higher learning, he'd be a safety school. Given the amount of talent at first base, replacement level at the position is particularly high. For this reason, LaRoche is the perfect example of a player whose numbers look less impressive when the appropriate context is introduced. The average major-league first baseman hit .264/.350/.452 last year, which is why it made sense for the Snakes to decline LaRoche's $7.5 million option for 2011. He has value, but he's always going to be someone's Plan B.
2010 All of the planets fell into alignment for LaRoche following his arrival in Atlanta, as he hit .325/.401/.557 in 57 games with the Braves. He's historically been a second-half hitter, with a career OPS 132 points higher after the break, and he's always liked playing with Atlanta. Not as good as he looked down the stretch, LaRoche is a solid first baseman who does some good things both offensively and defensively, but his team needs to sit him against strong lefties and suffer through a good deal of streakiness. The Braves wanted to keep him, but only at a price that represents his true value rather than pay an over-inflated bill for two hot months.
2009 Perhaps LaRoche should take a vacation at the start of every season and report to work right after the All-Star break, because it seems that he throws the first three months away every season. On his career, he has hit .253/.324/.447 in the first half over five years—or badly enough to lose his job perhaps anywhere but Pittsburgh—and .297/.360/.548 afterward, well enough to be a solid All-Star. Pile it all together in one lump, and you've got an immensely frustrating player who's pretty good in the aggregate, but keeps leaving you asking what would happen if he showed up earlier in the year.
2007 Adam LaRoche finally had a breakout season, but most of it took place in the second half, or around the time people were noting the end of an era in Atlanta. LaRoche hit .242/.323/.483 through June 30, but from that point forward he mashed at a .324/.383/.633 clip. Was it a three-month hot streak, or a new performance level? LaRoche started a prescription to combat his attention deficit disorder sometime during the season, and if his second half is any indication, it`s working. The Braves sense that, even at his apparent peak, LaRoche may be more valuable as trade bait than as a player to rebuild around. That`s why the winter was replete with rumors that he was being shopped. If he hasn`t been dealt by the time you read this it`s still likely he will be; the team would like to take this one decent player and turn him into two good ones.
2006 Son of LaLob, brother of the more highly-heralded Dodger prospect Andy, LaRoche was the lefty-swinging half of the Braves` first base platoon. The duo`s combined .262/.327/.456 performance didn`t measure up to the league positional average of .280/.361/.482. Their defense was below average as well, giving the Braves a reasonable excuse to upgrade, either by shifting Chipper Jones across the diamond or dipping into the free-agent or trade markets. Power isn`t really LaRoche`s problem; his ISO was right about league average for the position. It`s his plate discipline that`s lacking, or rather regressing. Take away the seven intentional walks and he walked once for every 14.1 at-bats, well below his rookie campaign (once every 12.5 AB) and his minor-league rate (once every 11.3 AB). Meh.
2005 LaRoche probably provided a bit more power last season than we should expect from him in the future. His career SLG in the minors was .447—a very modest figure for a first baseman. He did slug .512 at Myrtle Beach at the age of 22, but some of that was tied up in his .336 batting average. In terms of usefulness, I expect he'll wind up a little north of Travis Lee, minus the hype. He's a suitable left-handed half of a first-base platoon.
2004 The junior college product hits loads of line drives, has a semblance of the strike zone, and plays a great defensive first base?all the skills of Doug Mientkiewicz, but without all those pesky consonants. This is the sort of player for whom "gritty" end "gamer" come up a lot in the scouting reports, and thus the sort that an organization can overrate, causing problems down the road.

Related Content:  Adam Laroche

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