After a slow start to the season, the Nationals are finally playing like one of the best teams in baseball. While Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper generate most of the headlines, however, it’s their low-profile first baseman who is one of the driving forces behind their surge. And when you begin to talk to Adam LaRoche, he helps you understand that hitting is as complicated as it is simple.
Part of LaRoche’s comeback is as basic as a change in medication. Last year, the slugger tried an extended release medication for his ADHD, and the results were nothing short of disastrous. “All of them are really appetite suppressers, and so I got to the point where I had no appetite,” LaRoche said before a game with the Giants this June. “Heat and humidity played a role — sweating every day, losing a bunch of weight — and I got down to college weight.” LaRoche just wasn’t healthy.
That can help explain the return in his power stroke, perhaps. But despite great results, he’s not really hitting the ball much further — his batted ball distance on homers and flies is actually down three feet from last year. It’s still top 100 in the league, but he hasn’t added punch on those balls.
Part of what LaRoche is doing that is so great is that he’s making contact like he never has before. He’s posting a career-best strikeout rate (17.1%, career 22%), and it’s backed by the best swinging-strike rate of his career (6.9%, compared to his career mark of 9.7%). That one stumped the hitter — “That… is really unexplainable,” he said as he tugged at his beard.
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