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Roster review: Adam LaRoche

Oct 13, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 34

How acquired: Free agent, Jan. 2013

MLB service time: 10 years

2013 salary+bonuses: $10 million

Contract status: Signed for $12 million in 2014, $15 million mutual option (or $2 million buyout) in 2015, free agent in 2016.

2013 Stats: 152 G, 590 PA, 70 R, 121 H, 19 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB, 72 BB, 131 SO, .237 AVG, .332 OBP, .403 SLG, .735 OPS, 11 E, -2.3 UZR, 0.6 WAR

Quotable: “It just never took off. It was a ton of 1-for-4’s and 0-for-3’s with a walk, it seemed like. And that just doesn’t cut it.” — Adam LaRoche

2013 analysis: After plenty of back-and-forth negotiating, LaRoche returned to the Nationals over the winter, signing a two-year, $24 million contract that also included a mutual option for 2015. The Nats deemed the veteran first baseman an essential piece to their puzzle at the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse.

Well, LaRoche remained a key team leader off the field but his performance on it this season was extremely disappointing. He hit a pathetic .136 in April, and though he did get hot in May following a video session with old pal Chipper Jones, he fell right back into the slump later in the summer and finished with the worst numbers of any season in his career (aside from his injury-plagued 2011).

Equally surprising was LaRoche’s regression at first base. One year after winning the Gold Glove, he ranked as the NL’s least-effective defensive player at his position, according to Fangraphs. His 11 errors also matched a career high.

2014 outlook: Few players have been as consistent producers over their careers as LaRoche, which made this season all the more alarming. So, was this an anomaly, or a sign of an inevitable decline for an aging player? LaRoche himself believes it was an anomaly, citing his decreased weight this season (an unfortunate byproduct of the ADD medication he takes) for his continued struggles.

There is some statistical evidence to support the anomaly idea as well. LaRoche’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .277, worst of his career (aside from the injury-filled 2011 season). He did, however, hit more line drives than in any previous season, a full 25 percent of the balls he put into play. That suggests at least some degree of bad luck. The other encouraging news: LaRoche still drew plenty of walks and reached base at a .332 clip nearly identical to his career .337 mark.

There will be some who question whether the Nationals need to upgrade at first base over the winter, though LaRoche’s guaranteed $12 million contract (plus the 2015 option that either pays him $15 million in salary or a $2 million buyout) won’t be appealing to other clubs. The Nats still view him as an integral part of their organization, and they hope that as was the case for the entire team, 2013 was an aberration.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Oct 13, 2013 at 7:40 AM

    While those BABIP, LD% are encouraging, we cannot afford a slow start to the season.

  2. sjm308 - Oct 13, 2013 at 8:53 AM

    I just can’t get my head around the rankings on defense. I can see the issues with offense but these old eyes still marveled at his picks on throws from all 3 infielders. I am not disputing fangraphs, I just didn’t notice his range suffering like others point out. To me, he is a huge key to us succeeding next year. He was not the lone black hole on offense those first few months but the way he carried us the year before was in stark contrast to what we witnessed this year. I would take his normal numbers but if he gets off to his usual poor early start, I think a new manager would have to think long and hard about benching him. I said in an earlier post that most players in their “walk” year perform very well and I am hoping this is the case with LaRoche. Like Mark, I do not see the Nationals trying to move him or including him in a package. Rizzo likes to trade prospects not vets and what market would there be for a guy making 12 million hitting .237 and ranked last in defense at his position?

    Go Nats!

    • ArVAFan - Oct 13, 2013 at 10:50 AM

      Maybe Fangraphs downrated him significantly for times he really did poorly (i.e. Kansas City) plus the number of errors. Agreed, sometimes he made difficult plays (i.e. corralling wild-ish throws by RZ or Rendon) look easy. Personally, I can definitely live with his defense, Fangraphs notwithstanding. But that 0-for-April business gets old–as several other teams have noticed. If he can get his meds worked out in the offseason, I’m sure that will help. Either that, or he needs to start eating breakfast with Ramos. Those arepas seemed to have worked for him.

      • nats128 - Oct 13, 2013 at 1:05 PM

        FanGraphs doesnt make any assumptions for receiving poor throws. Its either an out, hit or error and the out is a chance and the error either gets assesed to the thrower or receiver.

        Laroches poor fielding stats on FanGraphs is becuz of his range was not that good this year. Not becuz of Kansas City however most of the season.

  3. sjm308 - Oct 13, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    One last comment before I start my day. Last night I actually went to bed with Sanchez throwing a no hitter in the 7th or 8th inning. My love of baseball is still there but it is so different without the Nationals actually in the mix. I won’t get counseling on this, maybe I am just getting old.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Oct 13, 2013 at 9:14 AM

      this is what I think: since Nats made postseason last year, it is hard to not see them in it this time. Thus interest in postseason has gone down considerably. at least that’s what I feel. before 2012, I used to watch as much playoff baseball as possible. this October has not been the same. I just tune in to check live scores once in a while.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Oct 13, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Watching Cabrera in the post-season, I am struck by his warning track (or less) power. The common explanation is that his groin/rib injuries are robbing him of the power to reach the seats or the gaps. This seems similar, to me, to the number of balls LaRoche hit deep but came down as long outs. As Mark notes, LaRoche’s LD% was high but they were hitting gloves, not walls. While this may be representative of the inequity of BAPIP it probably in not just a matter of luck but also a consequence of physical maladies.

    LaRoche is a mistake hitter: if it’s a FB between the knees and the waist, he’ll plaster it. Otherwise, even when healthy, more “meh.” What he does with the mistakes won’t show up as production if he doesn’t have the power to reach the wall/gaps/seats. The Nats seem to think this is all tied up in his ADHD medications but I’m not confident they have really done the assessments needed to establish the connection. I would worry about other, non-endocrinological, potentially long-term, causes. I hope someone — and not just LaRoche and his family GP — is working diligently to figure this one out, and what to do about it.

    Depending on what testing, experimentation with medications reveals, it could have a large impact on what the Nats do in the off-season. I would hate for the Nats to discover in the middle of ST that LaRoche’s decline isn’t reversible.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Oct 13, 2013 at 10:53 AM

      “they hope that as was the case for the entire team, 2013 was an aberration.”

      The value of “hope” is directly proportional to the work you have done to make the hoped-for outcome a a reality.

      • therealjohnc - Oct 13, 2013 at 12:10 PM

        FWIW, I don’t go by the operating assumption that, if I haven’t heard/read about the team doing its due diligence, it is not happening.

        The Nats will almost certainly go into 2014 with ALR at 1b. He will also go in with a much shorter leash, because he won’t be coming off of a Silver Slugger/Gold Glove year. If he struggles early then he will lose at bats, starting with a platoon if the Nats have a RH alternative (Tyler Moore, etc).

  5. letswin3 - Oct 13, 2013 at 1:44 PM

    Package him in a deal, suck up part of his ’14 salary……whatever. But don’t let the 2014 season rest on the shoulders of a first base guy that hit 237 last season (and only 259 with RISP) who is aging and is an average defensive guy. And if you wouldn’t start him at first, why would you want to platoon him…..did he hit 320 against righties? First base should be an offensive production position for the Nats, just like nearly every other team in the league. Others here, in particular Ghost, have endorsed the possibility of moving Werth to first to kill two birds with one stone …… first, you would upgrade that position by a great deal (you all know the numbers Werth posted), but that would open a few other doors for either signing a FA to effect a productive replacement in right field (Choo?), or promote some of the minor league outfield talent that is currently blocked. This says nothing about the likelihood that the next few years at first would be considerably less stress on Werth’s beat-up body. Frankly, I kind of like Adam as a person, but baseball is a business, and what can we expect him to deliver next season…237 and the worst first base fielding in the league? Just move him at whatever cost and don’t look back.

    • therealjohnc - Oct 13, 2013 at 7:25 PM

      I would point out that LaRoche is younger than Jayson Werth, and it wasn’t that long ago that fans were calling on Werth to be benched or dumped, contract or no. And of course Werth was likely the team’s MVP this year (him or Desmond).

      I’m not saying that LaRoche is likely to be the team’s MVP. But to say that what you can expect to get from LaRoche is equivalent to the worst healthy season of his career? Well, that’s just as foolish as it would have been to expect another Silver Slugger/Gold Glove season from LaRoche in 2013 just because he did it in 2012.

      You’re more likely to see something approaching, but a bit under (due to age regression) LaRoche’s career numbers – say about .250/.335/.465, with about 24-25 HRs. An 800 OPS is pretty mediocre for a 1b, but if you’re going to replace him you have to come up with something better. Just moving Jayson Werth to first who has barely played there (in the past 12 years had has played one inning at 1b, in 2007; before that in the minors he played 28 games at 1b in 2001, and 8 more games in 1997) is pretty much talk radio hokum.





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