Nationals Baseball: Adam Average... the Nats hope

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Adam Average... the Nats hope

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?

Contact %
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.


Positively Half St. said...

I hate having to approach a new season with goals such as, "I hope LaRoche is much better than Derek Lee and Carlos Pena," and "I sure hope Zach Greinke has another losing season." Once Carl Pavano chooses the Twins, I will pack up the hopes for a .500 season for another year, and wish Pavano a bad case of the yips.
Way too much depends on a miracle recovery by Chien-Ming Wang at this point.

Wally said...

+1/2 St - didn't you just say that it is too early to give up?

Here is another way to hope on Adam pt 2 - if he recognizes what he is doing and stops chasing those pitches out of the zone, his walk rate should bump up a few %, bringing his OBP above average and therefore increasing his value. That may also lead to better pitches to hit, since FBs are usually more controllable by a pitcher. Plus, a quick look at his defense shows one really bad year and then mostly pretty good years.

I am not super hopeful on this, just saying that it is not completely unreasonable. He needs to hire Harper to be his stats coach. Harper, do you hunt? Maybe that can be your foot in the door.

bdrube said...

View this whole thing for what it likely is--the Nats filling in a hole temporarily while they figure out whether Marrero or Tyler Moore can be the 1B of the future. By the time LaRoche's contract is up, the final verdict should be in on both of them.

The guy that intrigues me is Moore. If he goes to Harrisburg and bangs out another 30 plus homers we may have our next Adam Dunn in house. Unlikely, sure, but we can dream.

Donald said...

I didn't follow the d'backs much last year, but didn't LaRoche bat in front of Mark Reynolds who had around a .200 batting average? It's also very possible that Adam was getting more junk because he was being pitched around. If Werth is behind him in the line-up, it's likely that he'll see more stuff over the plate.

NattyDC said...

Why was everyone so high on Pena? the dude didnt even hit .200 last year. And Lee is all set for another average year just like LaRoche. Bottomline is the market didnt have many superstars available this year (in 2 yrs it may be different). And this option is better then having Morse/etc fill in.

Ps. Greinke took a year off for depression = im so glad the Nats didnt get him.

Anonymous said...

Although his batting stats are neither exciting nor horrible, his dip in fielding percentage concerns me some. He had more error last year than the previous two combined. If he gets back to previous defensive form then we have something decent for 2 years (or 1 1/2 and a trade at the deadline).

Ryan said...

Tyler Moore is not going to be Adam Dunn, he is displaying no patience in the minors.

This signing is okay, any replacement for Dunn was not going to be amazing, there were no options in free agency that could straight up replace him. LaRoche is a decent placeholder for a future first basemen through their minor league system, free agency or a trade.

Anonymous said...

I think NattyDC is onto something. The dips in LaRoche's stats could be a sign that his talent is tailing off. They could also be the result of his supporting casts in Pittsburgh and Arizona. In 2006, he had the luxury of playing with a 41 HR Andruw Jones (coming off his 51 HR season) breakouts Brian McCann and Jeff Francour, along with aging but still ever consistent Chipper Jones and Edgar Renteria. It was a pretty solid line up. The Nats are going to be pretty solid at the plate - not amazing, mind you - so I think his addition is a good one. Would I still like to see Dunn's bat between Zim and Werth? Absolutely. But Dunn's glove won't be missed by me or Zim, or Espinosa, or Desmond.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why they didn't resign Dunn. If they knew they were going to trade Willingham and only bring in Werth...Werth, I still have questions about.

anyhow...Why can't we go after Garza?

Harper said...

+1/2 st : No bad vibes needed. Even if the talent level isn't where eveyrone hoped every few years teams get lucky for no good reason, just go into the season hoping that's what'll happen to the Nats in '11.

Wally - take out the OBP stuff and that's reasonable. (He just doesn't walk). Lays off bad pitches, gets more good ones and hits 'em. I don't hunt but it's the sitting outside in the morning that bothers me, maybe me and Adam can go on Safari.

bdrube/Ryan - Ryan is right. Moore isn't Dunn. But he could be useful enough. Or Marrero could. Or they could move Bryce to first. They have 2 years to figure it out. The final verdict is that there is nothing wrong with this contract. Serves it's purpose and doesn't hurt the team.

Donald - I'd say Reynolds was behind him at least 50% of the time. It could make a difference but you have to think early in the year when Laroche was more often ahead of Reynolds, Reynolds wasn't hitting THAT poorly and pitchers probably weren't trying too hard to get to him. We'll see.

Natty DC - Pena and Lee were just better bets for bigger years. Not necessarily good bets, just better ones. Greinke is awesome and I'd risk taking a year off for what he could do in the other one.

Anon #1 - it is something to think about - if he has a BAD defensive year (which is possible but unlikely) he could be a detriment to the team. An 8 million dollar detriment

Anon #2 - We will see. Though the players he hit around for the 2008 Pirates were ok (then again he did hit ok that year)

Anon #3 - because Rizzo didn't like Dunn going forward. Simple as that. He wanted someone more reliable in the field. As for Garza (or shields) the price is supposedly very high. Not that the Nats can't make the deal but they won't break the bank for it.

Ryan said...

I didn't mean to come off like Tyler Moore might be useless, I do like him as an option, but he's not going to be the same level of hitter that Adam Dunn is.

this blog is great by the way, I like seeing something different than what I can find in the washington post or on, keep it up.

Ryan said...

the more I read into Adam LaRoche's numbers the less impressed I am, I just didn't realize his walks were so low

Harper said...

Adam seems a lot like Zimm when it comes to at bats. Not a walker but gets decent at bats. You'd prefer if he got on base more but he's not the offense killer that some free-swingers are.

DezoPenguin said...

I guess what it boils down to is, is Werth+LaRoche better or worse than Willingham+Dunn, since the Nats basically replaced one pair with the other. The hitting seems to have gotten a little worse, the defense a little better, the healthiness of the players a little better (mainly since Willingham was pretty much a lock to miss a month or two every season).

A year of seasoning may make Desmond a better player. A full year of Espinosa will probably be better than a year of Guzman+Kennedy, and isn't likely to be any worse. If one of Flores and Ramos can be healthy at any given time, catcher is probably improved simply by not putting Wil Nieves out there every third or fourth game, and there's a good chance of getting improvement over IRod's poor non-April performance (when you're trying to improve on "worst offense from the position in the league," you don't have to go very far).

The pitching staff should be no worse than last year (other than we won't get 1/3 of a season of Strasburg). There's adequate depth in the bullpen, and once again we have our choice among a large quantity of rookies, retreads, and reclamation projects who could give us five #3 through #5 quality starters.

And then there's the outfield, which at least looks better than it did at the *start* of last year. It's possible to do worse than platooning Bernardina and Morse in right field, which we know because the Nats tried to DO worse for the first half of the season with Harris and Taveras.

So at the very least, we can be reasonably confident that the Nationals won't lose 100 games, that fourth place is not entirely out of reach given that the Marlins and Mets basically did nothing to improve themselves all offseason, and at the least the ownership has proven that it's willing to open its wallet, which is more than some teams can offer (let us not forget that the LaRoche signing, while not as good as resigning Dunn and with less upside--although also less risk, judging by last year--than getting Lee or Pena, is most definitely better than "None of the Above"!).