Adam LaRoche’s Suddenly Elite Power

The Nationals’ plan to compete this year was a simple one: Trot out a rotation ballasted by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and hope somebody besides Ryan Zimmerman hits the ball.

There was little reason to believe that somebody would be Adam LaRoche. At 32, LaRoche was coming off a season of 45 awful games: 151 plate appearances of .172/.288/.258 hitting. A torn labrum sidelined him for the final four months of the season, and some sort of back injury was a yearly occurrence. His best season came six years ago when he was still with the Braves, a 32-homer affair with a 127 wRC+, his only campaign over 120.

In between lied an unremarkable career. LaRoche mustered wRC+ marks between 103 and 118 from 2007-2010, either just below or just above the first base average. He has a long swing, one that inevitably leads to a bunch of strikeouts (at least 20% of plate appearances every year except 2005).

But the length of this swing also lofts the ball and does so with great force:

When LaRoche launches his next home run, he’ll reach 30 for the first time since 2006. His .270/.343/.511 mark is quite similar to his 2007 performance, a .272/.345/.500 effort for the Pirates. But the average hitter put up a .264/.333/.416 line in 2007; the average first baseman is hitting .263/.337/.444 in 2012.

And so for the first time since 2006, LaRoche finds himself an impact player. But he isn’t doing anything new. He’s still a predominantly pull hitter with great natural power, a predilection to the fly ball, but mediocre contact skills. This skilllset wasn’t particularly difficult to find in 2007, when the league slugged .423 and its first basemen slugged .463. But five years later, many of those players that defined the league with their power have fallen away, either retiring or declining. LaRoche’s .511 slugging percentage ranks him fourth among qualified first basemen, behind Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. In 2007, the same mark would have ranked ninth, just behind the ever-capable Mike Jacobs.

LaRoche isn’t doing much he hasn’t ever done before. He’s taken steps above his career averages in most statistics this season, but not by much:

In a league where everybody has taken a step back, LaRoche has made himself into an impact player by doing just what he always has. All of a sudden, his power has gone from expected to excellent at first base, and the Nationals have capitalized on that power as a key component of their 2012 playoff run.



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Tom
Guest
Tom
3 years 11 months ago

Obviously, the real answer here is steroids, but thanks for all that jargon, Jack.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to run off and start ‘PEDgraphs’ where all the articles are about how every player suddenly having a great season is on the juice.

Cynical Asswipe
Guest
Cynical Asswipe
3 years 11 months ago

Anyone is allowed to think that thanks to baseball turning their heads. And when Jersey trash Mike Trout gets caught, it will be a bigger blow to baseball than BALCO and the senate hearings combined.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
3 years 11 months ago

If the answer has anything to do with steroid use then it would not be LaRoche using now (or ever) but his peers using then. He’s the one with the unchanged stats 2007/2012…

Ipse Amicus
Guest
Ipse Amicus
3 years 11 months ago

His brother recently has become a monster hitter at Pawtucket (Red Sox AAA) after what was mostly “the usual” LaRoche numbers this year. What up?

gaweenbob
Member
gaweenbob
3 years 11 months ago

Love the “2012 vs. career” graph.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 11 months ago

It’s fantastic. Reminds me of the graphs in The Economist which are indexed to 100.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp
3 years 11 months ago

The funny thing is his numbers this season are pretty much right in line with his career second half splits. It’s just that it normally takes him a few months to get his timing down with that long swing of his. This year he got off to a hot start, allowing his first half to be nearly as good in the first half as he has been in the second half.

Nitram Odarp
Guest
Nitram Odarp
3 years 11 months ago

Career line in the second half: .294/.353/.534

187
Guest
187
3 years 11 months ago

Steroids can’t teach you how to hit a ball, take a bad pitch, or give you the timing to leap over the wall to bring back a big fly. Only watching David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine on re-runs of Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues can give you those sort of ninja powers.

Dirck
Guest
Dirck
3 years 11 months ago

In one of my dynasty fantasy leagues (16 team) I traded Pujols for McCutchen and Kuroda when Pujols was going bad and I had 7 of my starting pitchers on the DL. Later , when my pitchers started coming back and Hosmer wasn’t producing for me like I had hoped , I traded Kuroda for Laroche . The team is now in the playoffs , thanks largely to McCutchen and Laroche .

Colin
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Colin
3 years 11 months ago

Please, tell me more about your fantasy team,

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
3 years 11 months ago

I read this visualizing the Willy Wonka meme

walt526
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walt526
3 years 11 months ago

Guys, Dirck is a Twitter sensation!

“I wish we had more updates on Dirck’s fantasy baseball team.” #saidnoFGposterever

“I don’t think that Dirck is giving us enough background on the relative difficulty of his league. Could you provide more context so that I might greater appreciate his genius?” #saidnoFGposterever

“People with opinions who have demonstrated success in fantasy leagues know more than the executives who actually work in the game. I wish Dirck could be the GM of my team!” #saidnoFGposterever

“What we need is more frequent updates regarding Dirck’s fantasy team.” #saidnoFGposterever

So the internet has spoken: Dirck is definitely a master among the twits.

Scraps
Guest
Scraps
3 years 11 months ago

Really!

Thanks Dirck
Guest
Thanks Dirck
3 years 11 months ago

In one of my dynasty fantasy leagues (16 team) I traded Pujols for McCutchen and Kuroda when Pujols was going bad and I had 7 of my starting pitchers on the DL. Later , when my pitchers started coming back and Hosmer wasn’t producing for me like I had hoped , I traded Kuroda for Laroche . The team is now in the playoffs , thanks largely to McCutchen and Laroche .

Daniel
Member
Daniel
3 years 11 months ago

Wow! Cool story!! Make absolutely sure to update us on how your team does in the playoffs. We will all be waiting on the edge of our seats in anticipation for said update.

TeamAmerica
Guest
TeamAmerica
3 years 11 months ago

Dircka Dircka
McCutchen Laroche

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 11 months ago

A.J. Pierzynski has 25 HR’s this year after hitting 17 total the last TWO years.
That surprises me much more than LaRoche.

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