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LaRoche carrying Nats lineup once again

Apr 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

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It has been easily forgotten because of everything that has transpired since, but it’s worth a friendly reminder: Adam LaRoche carried an injury-plagued Nationals’ lineup during the first two months of the 2012 season.

While Michael Morse, Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos all spent time on the disabled list, LaRoche was the one constant offensive producer for the Nationals in April and May that season. He led the club in homers, RBI, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, delivering clutch hit after clutch hit for a team that burst out of the gates en route to an MLB-best 98-win season.

And two years later, history is repeating itself. With Zimmerman, Ramos and now Bryce Harper all on the DL, it’s LaRoche who once again is carrying the Nationals’ lineup, delivering big hits all over the place to help keep his team afloat during trying times.

Tuesday night’s 4-3 win in Houston was merely the latest example. With the Nationals trailing late, LaRoche brought them back. His eighth-inning double off the wall in left-center brought Werth home and tied the game. A few minutes later, his ninth-inning RBI single to right scored Denard Span and gave the Nationals the lead for good.

With one day remaining in April, LaRoche is hitting .312 with a .413 on-base percentage, .495 slugging percentage, four homers and 17 RBI.

How does that compare to his hot start to the 2012 season? Well, he finished that April with a .329 batting average, .415 on-base percentage, .549 slugging percentage, four homers and 17 RBI.

Yeah, the resemblance is uncanny. Which begs the question: Does LaRoche feel right now like he did in April 2012?

“It’s hard to say, because I don’t remember how I felt last week,” he said with a laugh over the weekend. “That was two years ago. But it feels good. It’s nice, especially coming back from last year, to contribute a little more and be in the middle of this.”

Remember how LaRoche was among the Nationals’ biggest question marks entering the season, coming off the worst full-season of his career with more than a few observers wondering if the 34-year-old was effectively done? Nobody’s asking that question right now, testament to LaRoche’s offseason work to add weight after dropping to under 200 pounds last summer, not to mention his ability to avoid the frustration and overcompensating that often comes with this territory.

“I think a little more of having a plan and not going up and just kinda flailing away,” he said. “Going up with a little bit of a gameplan. And if he happens to leave something up, a good pitch to hit early, great. If not, be patient in there and wait for it.”

LaRoche also has made great strides in taking what the opposing pitcher gives him. With nearly every club shifting infielders to the right side in anticipation of him pulling the ball, LaRoche has become quite adept at going the other way. He already has 12 opposite-field hits in 25 games. For comparison’s sake, he only had 34 total opposite-field hits in 152 games last season.

It’s still early, and LaRoche has always been prone throughout his career to extended slumps. But the results so far look an awful lot like the results he produced in 2012.

And that’s as encouraging a sign as the Nationals have seen so far during a tumultuous opening month to 2014.

  1. Joe Seamhead - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:18 AM

    Mark, thanks for bringing Adam’s accomplishment’s to the forefront.One can only imagine what this team’s record would be without his substantial contributions in April. It’s nice to read positive remarks about Adam again.

  2. Hiram Hover - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    For the moment, I’m among those who are pleasantly surprised–I’ll confess I expected some rebound from ALR’s meh 2013, but not to this extent.

    I will caution, tho, that I don’t think this is sustainable. His wRC+ is 160 this year. Career is 112. Even 2012 he managed 127 over the season.

    His success seems fueled by his high BABIP – this year is .368, career is .306. Part of this is his success in hitting against the shift, and his LD rate is also up. But I think his BABIP too will come down–luck will take its toll, and if he keep hitting against the shift, teams will stop shifting so much.

    But again, I’ll enjoy it while it lasts, and I congratulate ALR on his good timing – he’s picking up the team at a time when some of the other big bats are out.

    • Section 222 - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:28 AM

      Well put HH. Hopefully when he cools down, some other bats will heat up. (Desi? Please?)

      • RPrecupjr - Apr 30, 2014 at 5:11 PM

        Or will be back in the lineup, RZim, Ramos…

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    I’m very happy for LaRoche having firmly believed he was better than last season’s results. Not to be overlooked was a Clippard-like performance by . . . Clippard, in a tie game. Some credit should be given to Williams as he had used Clippard most recently — twice — in low-leverage situations, to give him a chance to work out his “issues,” whatever they were. The whole pitching staff is on notice they have to produce a lot of 2-3 run games over the next sixty days to overcome the power outage represented by Harper and Zimmerman.

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      Good post, Theo.

    • jd - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:24 AM

      It’s one thing to find ways to beat Houston but in general if you keep playing tight 1 run games you will ultimately win about half these games. This is what I am worried about for the next while. At least until Zim and Ramos return.

      In the mean time it would be nice if Span starts getting on base at close to .400 levels and Desi hits like he did this past weekend.

  4. Doc - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    Nice write-up Mark.

    Interesting stat from the Astros announcers last night: Nats pitchers have only given up 1 run in the 9th inning since the start of the ’14 season.

    To reiterate that’s 1 run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • stoatva - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:02 AM

      Now, the eighth, on the other hand…

  5. MicheleS - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    YEA ADAM! So glad he is rebounding. I was listening to Charlie and Dave for that last inning.. Soriano… take the bad with the good. First 2 outs, eazy peazy… last out… took some time. Not good for my stomach.

  6. dgourds - Apr 30, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    I think it’s the Duck Dynasty beard mojo. Oh wait, he didn’t have that it 2012. Must be the walk year. If we could sign him for only a year at a time, he’d be awesome every year.

    • Joe Seamhead - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      I thing Desi needs to go see whatever horse whisperer that Adam went to.

      I still say give Adam a green top hat and put his picture on a box of Lucky Charms.

  7. stoatva - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    For a Nats fan of a few years’ standing, it’s déjà vu all over again watching the Astros. You can almost see them thinking “so, how are we going to lose this one?” And of course they generally do.

  8. Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    I’ve always hoped ALR and Espi would rebound in a significant way. They’ve both gone well above and beyond what I ever could’ve hoped, and I love seeing it.

    Keep it up, fellas!

    • NatsNut - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:18 PM


  9. chaz11963 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    It’s great to see Adam off to a great start. I don’t question that he also carried the 2012 team early in the season, but our pitching was much better at this time in 2012 than 2014. I think the 2014 pitching will get a lot better, but the 2012 Nats relied on pitching and defense, we haven’t seen that from the 2014 team yet.

    • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      Right. Early 2012 relied on pitching, defense, and just barely enough hitting.

      Early 2014 is relying on hitting (despite our lousy RISP, we are still third in NL in hitting, and 3rd in NL in runs scored — and that’s without playing in Colorado 😉 ), and sterling relief pitching.

      As Doc noted above, the Nats have given up only 1 run all season in the 9th inning. And, in fact, it was unearned. Nats team ERA for innings 7-thru-9 is 1.38

      Similarly, Nats team BA for innings 1-6 is .243, for innings 7-9 it’s .281

      (Nats have given up 22 runs in the 1st inning, and 16 in the second).

      • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:51 AM

        Makes you wonder where we’d be if the starting pitching were up to par–or even halfway to par–to start the season.

        I do have more faith in the starting pitching continuing to come around this year than I did in the bats coming around last year. The fact that we’re hitting, and have continued to hit through the loss of critical offensive contributors–is extremely heartening, imo.

      • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:19 PM

        Or even just “up to par” on the first inning!!

  10. adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Wonk’s Wednesday Widbits

    Last night relief pitcher Bret Cecil got a hold and a loss (I didn’t even realize that was possible!) in the same game.

    Mets 15-11. Yankees 15-11. Cole Hamels at home against the Mets in last 10 decisions: 2-8, ERA 8.33; Mets starters have given up more than three runs only once in the last 13 games

    Nats 15-12, Cards 14-14. Just sayin’. (BTW, neither of last years’ WS teams are above .500)

    Billy Hamilton defying expectations: he hit a home run, and got caught stealing for the fifth time. (OK, he didn’t defy all expectations: he also walked, had two infield hits, stole a base, and made a diving catch in CF). (He started the game the way Vince Coleman used to start games: walk, took second on SB, took third on WP, scored on a sac fly.)

    ALR: 5th in NL in OBA; 10th in both runs and RBI’s. Span: 6th best in NL for fewest K’s per AB. Werth and ALR are both in top ten for WPA (win prob. added). (Bad news: Ian tied for NL lead in GIDP).

    Soriano and F-Rod are the only two NL pitchers with 10 or more IP, and an ERA of 0.00

    The player with the highest OBP on the team with the second-highest OBP in the NL is Jarrod Saltalamacchia

    Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit was given 30 minutes notice that he would start (Matt Cain cut his finger while making a pre-game sandwich for himself) — he hadn’t even thrown off a mound in seven days. 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K.

    KC Royals are 13-0 when scoring 4 runs or more. On the flip side: the Rays are 3-16 when their opponent scores more than two runs.

    The Braves, in their 9-0 drubbing last night, it was only the second time _all season_ that a starter had given up more than three runs. (Can you spell “not sustainable”?). On the hitting side: the Braves starting lineup last night featured four non-pitchers hitting below .200 (same number as the Astros!).
    — In the meantime, Jose Fernandez extended his scoreless inning streak to 23. Since last June 1, he is 14-4, 1.52.
    —- He’s still age 21.

    Tigers won on Bryan Holaday’s two out bunt single in the ninth (scoring Austin Jackson from third).

    Padres’ Rene Rivera: his first 11 games: 27 PA, 0 XBH, 0 RBI, .200 BA. Last night in first five innings: 2 XBH, 5 RBI’s

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Great reading, as always.

      One interesting stat I noticed last night:
      Span’s BA (.222) is double McLouth’s (.111), but McLouth has the higher OBP (.304 to .289)

      Also, are we the last team to score on Jose Fernandez?

      • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:26 PM

        Yes — we are the last team to score on JF. JF’s line that game was 7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10K’s.

        There was an error in the 6th, then with two outs Werth hit a 3 run HR to tie the game.

        That was a game where Roark started and allowed three.

        The Nats won after both starters were gone: they scored three in the 8th when Zack Waters hit a lead off HR, and later Desmond hit a 2-run single.

  11. Section 222 - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    Just saw Fernandez’s play against the Bravos last night. Superb. Wonder what Sheriff McCann would have thought about that.

    The more I think about how the old guard treats talented, joyous players like Fernandez, Puig, and Carlos Gomez, the angrier I get. They are the only reason MLB will be able to replace old white guys like me as fans when we die off.

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      That’s fantastic!

    • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      The more I think about how the old guard treats talented, joyous players like Fernandez, Puig, and Carlos Gomez, the angrier I get

      Huh? Who’s treating them badly? I’ve obviously missed that.

      • Section 222 - May 1, 2014 at 9:46 AM

        Well, Sheriff McCann for one. All the fuddy-duddies who criticize the most minor pimping of a homerun, even though everyone does it, or any conduct that does meet their unwritten code of “playing the game the right way.” :-)

  12. tcostant - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    I think the more likely reason (rather than picking it up for injuried guys) is the fact that both times (2012 and now) ALR is in a contract year.

    • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:42 AM

      Frankly, I find that hard to believe, and think it’s overly cynical. I think ALR, like most professionals would be, was embarrassed at his performance last year (and probably wondered if it was the beginning of age-decline), and was determined to double down on preparing over the winter for this year and play well. This desire was probably heightened even more by the Nats overall performance last year, falling so short of potential, and the knowledge that the Nats have a limited window to make it to the WS with this roster. I think that had Adam been in a three-year contract, he’d still have come out of the starting gate with both guns-a-blazing this season . . .

      • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 11:49 AM

        I agree, wonk. I think the “contract year” concept falls particularly flat for a guy like LaRoche who seems to live and die by 1- and 2-year contracts. Think of how much more he would make–and perhaps how much longer his contracts would’ve been all these years–if he produced on off-contract years, too.

      • tcostant - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:27 PM

        Wow! Have you guys watched sports in the last two decades? Contract years matter. I’m not saying they don’t care or anything like that, but it matters. Maybe it’s just putting down the greasy food od getting enough sleep, but their is no doubt in my mind it matters.

      • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:34 PM

        But you could just as well find as many examples of folks who played poorly in their contract year, but nobody notices that. On the Nats: Haren, Edwin Jackson, Lannan, Nix, Livo — none did well on their last contract year with the Nats.

  13. mrnat7 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Has anyone noticed but our trade-offs: Alex Myer now with Minnesota farm team and Robbie Ray now with Detroit are doing quite well with their teams. It’s only a manner of time and they will be in the show. We are still waiting for Fister and Spann is struggling. I hope these trades don’t come back to bite us.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      Span will end up hitting .275-.280 and Fister will have more wins than Gonzalez.

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      It’s not even May. Check back in Sept, and let’s compare Fister vs Ray then.

      The fact that Ray may be starting this season before Fister is a bad thing for the Tigers, not a good thing–it’s only happening because Sanchez is injured.

    • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:28 PM

      Look on the defensive side of the equation, too. Span is spectacular out there in CF (nice catch last night, don’t you think?).

      and he hasn’t had an error since 2012

      • NatsNut - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:23 PM


  14. Theophilus T.S. - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    Ellis couldn’t get to a ground ball last night, allowing a runner to score from second. The middle of the Cards’ infield looks porous. They may be in trouble.

  15. natsguy - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:25 PM

    Ramos is the player missed the most. They are not missing RZIM that much.

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      Yeah. .364/.405/.636/1.042 w/6 RBI and 2 HRs in 12 days? Who needs that?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:54 PM


    • secretwasianman - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:22 PM

      Ridiculous statement. Get a clue.

  16. natsguy - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Span is worth his weight in gold in CF. He is so good his spectacular plays don’t look that way. His routes are perfect and he is smooth as silk. Very underestimated. Be glad we have him. Great trade.

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      Huge fan of Span, especially after seeing what he’s capable of at the plate in the second half last season. But, even before that, I was always on board. I love good D.

  17. Sonny G 10 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Thank goodness ALR is hitting so well now while our thunder is on the DL. His defense has not been too shabby either.

  18. chaz11963 - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    It looks as though Ramos and Fister both could be back next week around the same time.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Apr 30, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      Not to diminish what Ramos can contribute but the Nats have been extremely fortunate to have Lobaton, who’s been good on defense, throws, great at handling pitchers, and hit over his head. And Leon has done a fine job with the pitching staff. There may have been a fall off but the catching has been much better than there was any reason to expect. Ramos can get his regular off days with the team hardly missing a beat.

      • natsguy - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:29 PM

        I absolutely agree about Lobaton. He has done a great job and they are very lucky to have him. Cross your fingers about his continued good health.

      • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:57 PM


      • NatsNut - Apr 30, 2014 at 10:24 PM

        Big like!

  19. water47 - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:03 PM


    I, too, am a fan of Span but defense can only take you so far (the old Danny Espinosa). The Nats need him to be a hitter(so many people have debunked the “lead-off” hitter player) who can get on OBP. Especially, since he has little to no power. Gives us amazing defense and average OBP and all would be well. Granted, the talk at the time of the trade was the Nats would be getting amazing defense and above-average OBP and speed but amazing defense, average OBP and speed would be acceptable.

    As to the prospects dealt away, yes once in a while a deal blows up for a team (Colon for Lee, Sizemore and Phillips) but good teams build deep farm systems that allow them options. Trading some, nurturing others which keeps the team flush with MLB talent and competitive.

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      While I agree Span needs to step it up (and, I think he will), he’s a far, far cry from the bottom Espi hit at the plate.

      • water47 - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:15 PM

        True enough.

      • jd - Apr 30, 2014 at 2:14 PM

        Still .289 OBP at the lead off spot shouldn’t be tolerated long term. Last year he ended up at .327 which is still bad. The year before that in Minnesota he was at .342 which is barely acceptable for a leadoff hitter. I love his defense and I am not advocating benching him but I am not sure there is much justification for batting him at the top of the order.

  20. Eugene in Oregon - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:07 PM

    There’s a mention above that the Nats are third in the NL in hitting and scoring. True, but dig a little deeper and you find that while the Nats are averaging 4.4 runs per game, in over half their games (14 out of 27) they’ve scored three (3) or fewer runs. Thus, their mean (4.4) runs/game is almost a run and half better than their median (3). The average has been pushed upwards by those games in which they score 8, 9, 10, and 11 runs. And, as you’d expect, in those 14 games where they’ve scored three or fewer runs, they’ve lost 11 of them.

    • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      How many of those 11 involved a starter imploding?

    • David Proctor - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      Here’s another stat:

      STATS ‏@STATS_MLB 18h
      #Nationals slugged .448 & averaged 5.3 runs in 11 games prior to Ryan Zimmerman’s injury. They’re slugging .377 & averaging 3.8 runs since.

      • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:34 PM

        The Nats averaged *nine* run in game in those games that Ramos has started.

        (OK, I’m just foolin’ with ya’. Ramos, as we know, has played in only one game thus far, and went 0-3).

    • adcwonk - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      True — but I think the point of the average here is that the Nats are hitting well, even though it’s not necessarily consistent.

      In total, the’ve scored 119 runs and allowed 108 runs. By “Pythag” they should be 15-12. In reality, they are . . . 15-12.

    • therealjohnc - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:41 PM

      Eugene, that’s a meaningless obesrvation without context. Is their percentage of low scoring games out of line with other teams? Every team has high scoring games (often much higher than the Nats peak of 11 runs) that will inherently skew the difference between the mean and the median because you can’t score fewer than zero runs. I can’t know whether to be concerned by the 3-11 record when the team has scored three or fewer runs unless I know how that compares to other teams across the league. If the 3-11 figure is correct, that would also mean that the Nationals are 12-1 in games where they score four or more runs.

      Context is key.

      • Eric - Apr 30, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        “The Nationals are now an impressive 12-1 when scoring at least four runs. It didn’t seem like they would reach that mark for much of Tuesday night.”

      • Eugene in Oregon - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        Actually, part of what I was trying to do was provide some context. In this case, for the previous reference to the Nats having the 3rd highest runs/game average in the NL. Averages are often very useful measurements, but you can also learn something from comparing the average to the median.

  21. Ghost of Steve M. - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    I thought LaRoche was bad in April [said in sarcastic tone]

  22. secretwasianman - Apr 30, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    Great article Mark. This guy along with Mr Werth are total professionals. I love how They change their approach at the plate depending on the situation. Unfortunately I don’t see this with many ( Desi) of other guys. Seems like they just go hacking





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