Adam LaRoche and His Desert Walking Shoes

Adam LaRoche came into the off-season with a higher opinion of himself than what major league GM’s thought of him. After a prolonged time of sitting around and watching other players get signed, LaRoche ultimately settled for a one-year deal with the Diamondbacks at the bargain price of $5 million. So far, that deal is looking like an even better deal than projected, as LaRoche is off to a very good start, hitting for a .401 wOBA.

While we don’t want to get carried away with someone who is hitting in the dry air of Arizona this early, there is a solid reason to believe LaRoche’s step-up is the genuine article. Why is that you ask? Well, LaRoche has become a noticeably more disciplined hitter. His walk rate is up to 15.2%, and that’s backed by a league-low O-Swing% of 10.4%, a stunning 12.2% cut from his O-Swing% from the preceding season. This bodes extremely well for LaRoche. While we should rightfully be wary of sample size stats this early, a study by Russell Carlton shows that a player’s swing percentages become reliable much sooner than other numbers. For swing%, it’s as quickly as 50 plate appearances.

O-Swing% correlates well with walks for the obvious reason that if a player isn’t chasing balls out of the strike zone, naturally he’ll be reaching base more while also taking advantage of better pitches to hit. LaRoche has been doing just that, and now his updated ZiPS projection calls for a .390 wOBA on the season. That’s Ryan Howard production at a Scott Linebrink price.

LaRoche can undoubtedly parlay this type of success into some bigger bankroll if he can keep showing a discriminatory eye at the plate to complement his solid power.




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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.


14 Responses to “Adam LaRoche and His Desert Walking Shoes”

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  1. Mark says:

    Hey there, power! You’re looking good. You’re looking really good! Have you lost weight?

    Why thank you, yes I have.

    I think you mean “complement.”

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  2. Joser says:

    LaRoche notoriously sports significant first-half/second-half splits (and has consistently done so his whole career). Will this be the year he finally starts hot and maintains his offense for an entire season (perhaps his body has been tricked by the Arizona weather into thinking it’s already July?) or will he trail off, reversing his usual profile? It’s scary (and somewhat absurd) to think he could get better in the second half.

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  3. Paul says:

    I’m not buying it yet. Reading this I figured you just forgot to look at intentional walks and they were elevated like last year with him. Not so. But what is so is that while his swings outside the zone are way down, his overall contact rate is in the normal range. Might expect at least a small uptick, especially within the small sample. But then look at the pitch types and you see that he is seeing 7% fewer fastballs than last year, which was already pretty low. He has always hit the FB and CH well, so maybe we’re just looking at good scouting. He’s seeing more CBs and especially SFs, which he has historically fared very poorly against. Maybe those are out of the zone and he’s not swinging at them like he used to, but the values on those pitches should reflect that improvement and they don’t. Not saying it’s out of bounds that he makes a run at a .400 OBP this season, but I need to see another 100 ABs.

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  4. I think you need to look at his split stats to see what is going on. Sure, he has great stats now, and that is without good stats in AZ itself, he did it all on the road.

    2 HR in Wrigley Field. It was one of those classic Wrigley blowouts, there were 5 homers hit out that day.

    1.083 OPS in Coors Field: Nuff Said!

    1.170 OPS in Dodger Stadium: not going to continue if he plays more games there this season, career there was .228/.328/.491/.819 before this season.

    Nice game in Houston, a hitter’s park.

    I think you can see the pattern here: he has feasted on the road at a number of hitter’s parks plus got really lucky in LA, and got really lucky in Chicago. His poor home numbers balance that out, but then again, he’s never hit well there previously either.

    Now, the vast majority of his walks have also come on the road, when he’s been hotter than hot. I have to wonder how many of these walks were semi-intentional walks, as he had 5 walks versus 15 K at home, and 9 walks versus 6 K on the road. For his career, he has 45 walks per 100 K’s.

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    • Rajai says:

      Hit Tracker Online thinks all four of his homers were legit despite being hit at hitter’s parks, and I don’t know what going 1 for 3 with a double and two walks at Minute Maid proves.

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    • Mat says:

      lolzers @ “2 HR in Wrigley Field. It was one of those classic Wrigley blowouts, there were 5 homers hit out that day.” Is that a point? That he hit a homerun in a high scoring game? What are we supposed to gather from that? Guess I should only start my hitters when I know it’ll be a classic Wrigley blowout. You let me know what games those will be and I’ll pick up every FA for each team that day.

      “1.083 OPS in Coors Field: Nuff Said!” -Not really, he hit well in a couple games at Colorado.

      Are we familiar with the Gambler’s Fallacy?. I guess we’ll just assume he’s lucky until the end of the year when he’s sport a line around .275/.370/.510 with approximately 30 HRs and 110 RBIs. Bad news friend, he’s going to be playing in a hitter’s park a lot this year. It’s in the formerly-great state of Arizona. Might want to work on not running wild with 2 and 3 game sample sizes, and common sense. Still amazed at the “Classic Wrigley blowout” comment.

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  5. Justin says:

    FYI, baseballs travel further in humid air – not dry air.

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    • joser says:

      Yes, all else being equal — water vapor is less dense than dry air. However, all else is most definitely not equal when comparing balls hit in humid environments to balls hit in arid ones in actual game conditions. The difference in air resistance caused by the water vapor in the air is a minor factor; the much bigger issue is that the balls themselves (and to a lesser extent the bats) absorb moisture from the air and become less elastic as a result. So while a ball launched into humid air at the same velocity might fly slightly further, it won’t be launched with the same velocity because that humid air is making the collision between bat and ball less efficient.

      There’s a reason why they put the balls in the humidor at Coors to cut down on home runs.

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  6. AJS says:

    Here’s what’s weird: His O-Swing % is incredibly low, but he’s also making less contact when he does swing at outside pitches. Meanwhile, his Z-Swing % and Z-Contact % are also down significantly. Any reasons for this? You’d think given low O-Swing % and low first strike % he’d K less, but he’s actually striking out at a higher percentage than his career norms.

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  7. Alex says:

    “While we don’t want to get carried away with someone who is hitting in the dry air of Arizona this early”

    While I understand what you’re getting out, I’d point out that the same ball actually travels further in humid air than it does in dry air due to water weighing less than diatomic oxygen. The only reason dry air would cause balls to carry further in Arizona is because the lack of humidity causes the balls to dry out more, meaning they weigh less and carry further. The other reason is that the temperature is just higher in general, but that has to do with warm air, not dry air.

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  8. J says:

    Youkilis, Qualls and Javy for Greinke and Strassburg who wins?

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  9. Hi there can I quote some of the insight from this entry if I link back to you?

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  10. Nostradamus says:

    Sorry for off topic, but 2012 is close, is this really matter?

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