It's official. The "AdamLarocheEra Begins" text is scrolling on the bottom of Nats highlights. Two years, 16 million or something like 33% Adam Dunn, which is about right. The general feeling on Adam Laroche is that he's an average player. Are the Nats resigned to two years of averageness, or could they get something special? (or could it all blow up in their face?)
(I'm not discussing fielding here. Adam has the potential to be very good, he also has the potential to be average. For any particular year its hard to say. let's just admit he'll be better than Dunn would have been and move on)
First we need to understand the type of player Adam is. He's not the type of player that takes a free base. His walk rate is near the bottom of the barrel for first basemen. However, that doesn't mean he's a hacker. His 3.99 pitches seen per plate appearance is a perfectly acceptable number. Instead, he's a hitter when push comes to shove wants to hit his way on base. He's been good enough with his average and power that it's worked for him so far, but can it conitnue? A look at the last 3 years can tell us a little :
2008 .270 / .341 / .500 122 OPS+
2009 .277 / .355 / .488 122 OPS+
2010 .261 / .320 / .468 106 OPS+
2008 and 2009 Adam is a good batter. 2010 Adam is an average batter. 2008 and 2009 Adam is worth paying for and could be a surprising boon for the Nats. 2010 Adam is replaceable and won't really do anything special for the Nats. Which Adam is more real? Was 2010 an aberration like 2007 seemed to be, or is it the start of something bad?
Looking back farther doesn't tell us much. 2007 was again close to average, 2006 was his best year. His age (30) would lean toward him becoming average, but it's not like a couple good years at 31 and 32 are unheard of. So onto the fancy stats...
BABIP (batting average ball in play) should be pretty stable.
[Career] .315. [Last 3 years] .308 -> .328 -> .330
Adam might have been tiny bit lucky last year (though I wouldn't worry about it). The key is he certinaly was not unlucky here.
How is his K-rate?
25.0% 24.8% -> 25.6% -> 30.7%
OK well here's something. He's striking out a lot more. My first thought is that it could be an organizational thing since it only shows up last year. The D-backs were a very all or nothing type team (at least that's what we heard from the liberal media). If that's the case then maybe moving to the Nats would give Adam a real chance at a bounce back year. How can we tell? Well one way is to look at the GB/FB breakdown. Adam's GB/FB rate should move a bunch if there was an approach change last season.
Anything going on with his GB/FB rate?
0.94 0.87 -> 0.81 -> 0.86
Hmm that actually seems pretty stable. (in case you are wondering real early in his career he was more of a ground ball hitter but he's been more of a fly ball hitter for a while) No clear answer here.
While we're looking at hit-type epercentages, let's look at his LD%
20.5% 20.5% -> 21.6% -> 18.2%
Uh oh. That's a concern. It's not necessarily that he was striking out more becuase he was trying to drive homers last year. He wasn't hitting the ball as square. Can we find (a possible) reason why?
We can look at if he's changed the pitches he's swinging at. Let's take a look at his O-Swing% (swinging percentage on pitches outside the strike zone)
23.6% 22.6% -> 22.7% -> 28.1%
Well there we go. It looks like Adam is swinging at a lot more pitches outside the strike zone. This is way higher than any number he had put up in his career.
Any other numbers here of interest?
77.5% 81.3% -> 75.2% -> 74.1%
Those last two numbers are ones to be concerned about as well. He's made less contact the past two years than he has ever in his career.
This is getting pretty long and number heavy. Now that I have a path, let's move on with the work not shown. When we parse it a bit more he's making contact less on pitches inside the strike zone, and as we saw above he's swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. Is he being pitched to differently? Yes. He's also saw less fastballs last year than he had in a while. The way I read this is that he's having trouble hitting anything not straight in the zone. To make up for it, he probably chasing fastballs outside the zone which inherently are harder pitches to hit. A little more research is needed to see for sure and this is just one way of reading it, but it feels right on the surface.
The good news is that because there seems to be a change in pitches thrown to Adam, I don't think he's necessarily slipping all that much. He's just been figured out in a way. This means he's not likely to crash. Guys aren't going to start throwing him 50%+ off speed junk. He's not Wily Mo Pena. But it would also means that he's unlikely to bounce back with a surprise year, unless he can start hitting those off-speed pitches.
I think he's stuck as an average player. It's not bad, but it's not what the Nats and Nats fans are probably hoping to hear. He's expensive 2-year filler, with the best bet for him helping the Nationals is for Adam to have a couple of great defensive seasons. Possible? Sure. Likely. No.