Nationals Baseball: Adam LaRoche: A Second Look

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Adam LaRoche: A Second Look

Last season most Nats fans weren't... enthused when the team signed Adam LaRoche.  Part of that had to do with the failed pursuits of Carlos Pena and Derrek Lee, players that were just a couple years removed from seasons that surpass LaRoche's best ever. In comparison, LaRoche was a mild letdown. Part of it, though had to do with LaRoche's numbers.  2010 was not as good as 2008 or 2009, and given his age,  most saw this as a sign of his decline.

I took a walk through the stats last year and came to the same conclusion. For those that don't want to read all that the basic thought process was that in 2010 his K-rate went way up and his BB-rate went down. While this could have been because of the "D-back Way" the numbers seemed to to be backed up by other fancy stats, most notably a increase in his swings at pitches out of the strike zone, a decrease in contact at pitches in the strike zone and an drop in his line drive rate.

Look at what happened last year to those stats:
  • K-rate back down from 28.0% to 20.9%
  • BB-rate back up from 7.8% to 14.1%
  • Swinging out of the strike zone down from 28.1% to 21.8%
  • Contact in the strike zone up from 85.1% to 87.4%
  • LD% up from 18.2% to 19.1%

In other words, everything I was looking at got better. In fact they basically returned to what he was doing the few years prior to 2010. The exception was the LD% which didn't quite get there - but his... let's say "post-contact" stats were all messed up - he was basically grounding everything weakly - we assume that's the injury...right?  So back to the question at hand - maybe it was the the D-backs?  To check that I looked at the players who joined Arizona in 2010 from other teams to see how they fared compared to the 2-3 years prior

Kelly Johnson
K-rate - Up
BB-rate - Up
Swing Out - Up (but not by much)
Contact In - Down
LD% - Up

Tony Abreu (I could only find minor league stats for K-rate and BB-rate. His major league AB are really limited)
K-rate - Up
BB-rate - Down

Mostly got worse. What about those that left the D-backs in 2011 in comparison to 2010?

Mark Reynolds
K-rate -Down
BB-rate -Down
Swing Out - Up 
Contact In -Up
LD% -No Change

Chris Snyder
K-rate -Down
BB-rate -Up
Swing Out - Down
Contact In -Up
LD% - Up

Mostly got better. Toss in LaRoche's numbers here and you do see a small (and to be honest, totally unconclusive, it's five players we're talking about here) pattern. The 2010 Diamondbacks, who not only led the league in K's but set an all-time record in the stat, may have adversely affected their hitters with the approach the team took to at bats. I'm not saying they struck out too much (I don't really believe that matters), but there is a difference between "Find a good pitch, swing from the heels, we don't care if you whiff" and "Swing from the heels, we don't care if you whiff".  The D-backs may have strayed too much toward the latter and suffered because of it.

What does this mean for LaRoche?  Well maybe I was too harsh in the initial judgement.  If it was the "D-back Way" that caused a drop in stats in 2010, not the inevitable decline that comes with age, than perhaps there's a good chance a healthly LaRoche can put up that .275 60 BB 25 HR season the Nats were hoping for when he signed. That may not seem like much but it would be an improvement over what LF was producing last year and this offense needs to find improvements.


cass said...

One slight problem: He seems to still be injured, so I'm guessing we're not going to get much better than last year if we get anything at all.

I just really prefer Morse at first, though that does mean we need another outfielder. I do have a fear that Morse is better offensively at 1st than LF, though rationally I know that's probably just a fluke of small sample size.

Hoo said...

It's hard not to feel confident that the Nats will be in the top 3 pitching. 7 real starters that the team can feel confident about. A bullpen that traded Coffey for Lidge and will likely have 3 lefties. Unbelievable potential on the mound.

And the complete reverse at the plate. It's hope and dreams that Dez gets it, Werth rebounds, LaRoche is injury free and back, Espi improves etc, Ankiel is't crushed. Zim's only question is health and after that, Morse might be the most reliable. A bit scary considering he was a platoon player last spring.

I do think that LaRoche is more likely to have a nice happy bounceback year than Werth.

Section 222 said...

I'm kind of surprised that LaRoche's injury plagued 1/5 of a season would be taken as statistically significant in any way. Wouldn't his weak and injured shoulder have affected his approach at the plate more than being free of the Mark Reynolds' style overswinging in AZ? I can certainly imagine that if you're hitting .140 and have no power you might start looking for BBs as a way to not be quite as much of a drag on your team.

brendan said...

What happens if Laroche can't play and they move Morse back to first? Who plays left, Werth or Harper? Or do they still try to move Werth to center and then sign a left fielder?

Anonymous said...

Werth would play LF with Ankiel in CF and Harper in RF. And the Nationals didn't trade for Lidge.

Harper said...

cass - That Morse feeling you get is going to be a big problem if he starts slow (even though he did so last year). Sports fans are all about "do it until it doesn't work no more" and aren't afraid to let the team know it.

Hoo - yep the offense is relying on a question mark in almost every position outside of CF (where we have reliable suck). Some of those questions have multiple good answers but still there's a lot of variability here.

I also like LaRoche to have a better bounce back than Werth (not necessarily a better year - but closer to expectations) if he's healthy. My assumption now is sucky LaRoche was injury caused. Sucky Werth - who knows?

222 - well I'm not saying it's significant but if you are looking for the sunny side you can find it. A "work a walk" approach is possible, but wouldn't be linked to contact in the zone, or LD% I bet. Also, I guess if what you are saying is right we should expect an increase in BB-rate and a decrease in K-rate as we go along. Looking April v May BB-rate does go up, but K-rate skyrockets and LD-rate goes up as well. (contact info isn't split on fangraphs like this). Same sort of inconclusiveness if I look at 10 game segments.

I guess I think the positive spin makes a little more sense, but I'm not going to denounce anyone who think LaRoche is done.

brendan - depends on the time of season that decision is made. Before OD - they probably go with Bernie in LF, Ankiel in CF, Werth in R. A month or so in (when that extra year of control is gained.) you'd probably see Bryce up to take his spot, assuming he's doing ok in the minors. I think Werth in CF is out as long as Ankiel (or Bernadina) isn't terrible

Harper said...

Anon - yeah I need to clarify - right now even a month in it would be Bryce up into RF, Werth over to LF. But I wouldn't be surprised if they give Bryce some LF time in the minors when he goes down.

And I don't think Hoo really meant "Traded" in the deal sense. More like "this guy out, this guy in"

Nattydread said...

I'm a fan. So, it's now time to reluctantly root for Mr LaRoche because he's the man Rizzo has bequeathed us with.

Rizzo has really beefed up starting and bullpen pitching, so its difficult to get down on him. However, for a team that was in the bottom quarter, his approach to hitting seems uninspired: Werth, Zimmerman, Harper, Morse (?), general improvement of the young-uns, journeymen and the farm.

I'm concerned about the journeymen (LaRoche is one) and the younguns (Dezi, Espinoza, Ramos). For the team to really perform, 3 of the above 4 have to light it up this year.

Hoo said...

Rizzo's approach to hitting has been pitching/defense...and hope for some projects to come through. (Cheers to you Mike Morse! Hope you continue to impress).

I think Morse/Zim are the only 2 hitters you feel really good about being above average for their position.

Harper, should Nats fans be concerned that Morse is now considered a reliable, key cog in the offense? What type of regression to mean chance is there?

Harper said...

NattyDread - that's why I'm real hesitant to put this team in the division race. It's possible to make 10 game improvements by shoring up pitching when you're so bad, but moving from 80 to 90 isn't like moving from 60 to 70. You need to hit well too and the Nats just need too much to do that. Hell - maybe they'll be the #1 pitching staff and it'll carry a middling offense. Maybe they'll be SF East.

Hoo - its a little concerning but it's been 250 games or so of good production. If they need him to be a star it may not work but if they simply need him to be good (like 2010 expanded out) I wouldn't worry.