Infield Flies Killing Andy LaRoche

Andy LaRoche is currently the only player the Pirates received in the Jason Bay trade on the active roster. Craig Hansen hasn’t pitched in 2010, Bryan Morris is in hi-A, and Brandon Moss has a .676 OPS in AAA. Right now, Andy LaRoche is the best hope for the Pirates to get a productive player out of that deal. This year, however, results have been disappointing. LaRoche only has a .311 wOBA this year, down from .324 in 2009.

Much of this decrease in performance can be attributed to a .278 BABIP. Throughout his career, LaRoche has had BABIP issues, most notably in 2008, when he carried a .190 BABIP through a relatively large sample of 186 balls in play. The key to these issues appears to be a penchant for hitting infield fly balls. In 1100 career plate appearances, LaRoche has an IFFB% of 14.5%. That would rank in the top 10 marks among qualified players in 2009.

It should be obvious that infield flies are a bad result. The BABIP on infield flies is right around .010. Even though LaRoche’s 35.0% career fly ball rate is below average, his high IFFB rate still means that 5% of his batted balls are almost guaranteed to be outs.

That problem has only been exacerbated in 2010. LaRoche’s infield fly fate has expanded to 25%. With a quarter of his fly balls going for outs, and his fly ball rate up to 36%, that means that 9% of his batted balls are guaranteed outs. That’s put a major damper on his slugging percentage this season – his SLG has fallen from .401 to .364, and his ISO has seen an equivalent drop. His ground ball BABIP has increased to .233 from .218 (and a bewildering .111 in 2008), which has offset the damage to his batting average and on-base percentage.

Really, the only major difference between LaRoche’s 2010 and 2009 is this increase in infield flies. His walk rate is within 0.1%, his HR/FB rate is within 0.5%, and his strikeout rate is actually down 2%. It’s nearly impossible for an infield fly rate this high to be sustainable – no qualified player in 2010 hit more than 17.6% of his fly balls in the infield. Expect LaRoche to start hitting more of his fly balls out of the infield. Both his power and batting average will increase as a result, and his line should approach, if not eclipse, last year’s 97 wRC+, 2.6 WAR season.



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OgdenNuttingGoneFlake
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OgdenNuttingGoneFlake
5 years 11 months ago

Minor correction: Brian Morris was promoted to AA Altoona last week.

stich09
Member
stich09
5 years 11 months ago

Minor correction: Bryan Morris’ name is spelled as follows: Bryan Morris.

Carson Cistulli
Editor
Member
5 years 11 months ago

Fixed. Thanks!

Andy
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Andy
5 years 11 months ago

Are infield fly rates usually sustainable? Should we expect some regression to the mean for LaRoche, or is “penchant for hitting infield flys” something that sticks with a player?

Andrew
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Andrew
5 years 11 months ago

I am pretty sure he answered your question in his article.

Bottom-line: No, it isn’t sustainable.

wobatus
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wobatus
5 years 11 months ago

Hmm, Eric Byrnes sustained his way out of baseball with IFFB% well above 20% sveral years ina row, peaking this year at 40%+. SSS, but even when he was going ok, lotsa IFFB from Byrnes. At least per his fangraphs stats page.

Andrew
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Andrew
5 years 11 months ago

“Right now, Andy LaRoche is the best hope for the Pirates to get a productive player out of that deal.”

I’m not so sure that is a true statement. Bryan Morris has always been the key in the trade from the Pirates perspective as he has ace-potential with three above-average pitches. Plus, he has the lowest ERA in the Minors currently, after simply dominating High-A pitching and showing a good debut at AA. While Craig Hansen may never amount to much based on injury and Brandon Moss is at-best a 4th OF, Bryan Morris, this year, has held up his end of the bargain.

He may not be a ‘sure thing’, but he is still probably the best hope for the Pirates that the Bay deal will go down as a positive one. If you can get a top-of-the-rotation starter and an average 2B/3B like LaRoche for a declining and flawed player like Bay – who wasn’t going to sign with you in a year and a half anyways – the Pirates will look awfully good in a year or two.

wobatus
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wobatus
5 years 11 months ago

Declining and flawed sounds more like Laroche than Bay.

Andrew
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Andrew
5 years 11 months ago

Really? That simply makes no sense based on age, production, ablility to handle position, and pretty much any other metric you want to use.

You must be a Mets fan…..

wobatus
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wobatus
5 years 11 months ago

I am, but I am talking about Bay at the time of the trade you are discussing. Bay was a 5 WAR player last year (check his UZR post the adjustment) and is at I believe 1.3 war through last night. If Morris becomes a good major leaguer, and because Bay was not resigning with the Pirates, I am not questioning your major premise, just the use of the phrase declining and flawed as applied to Bay. He has been better the last 2 years then he was his last year and a half with the Pirates. He was 5 WAR last year and close to that pace this year. And he isn’t a great fielder, but he had a positive UZR last year, slightly negative this year.

Laroche has had one decent season, he hasn’t played as well so far this year, and i don’t know that he will ever be as good as some thought he could be in the minors. So i guess decline is relative. He’s relatively young still, compared to Bay. Overall, who is more “flawed,” Bay or Laroche? Bay has well ot-warred him every year thus far since the trade, part of 2008, all of 2009, and so far this year.

Morris has promise, and he is pitching well, but he was repeating high A at 23. That said, the K rate spike, control and grounders look nice, and his first start in Altoona looks good. If Laroche can manitain being a servicable player, and Morris comes through, nice deal. if not, still a gamble worth it. But Bay is almost as good now as his Pirates peak, but won’t be by the end of his Mets deal.

wobatus
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wobatus
5 years 11 months ago

S what I meant Andrew? 7-38, only 1 double, since this and his back is hurting. I’d cut him some slack, since he is youngish still, but he’s going to be out of a job soon.

Circlechange11
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Circlechange11
5 years 11 months ago

I’d be interested to see what pitches and location lead to his pop-ups. If it’s a specific location or a certain pitch, he may be able to right the ship. If it’s his swing path or mechanics, he might be screwed.

Hank
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Hank
5 years 11 months ago

Another case of overhyped RedSox propsects flaming out after being traded. OK, perhaps flame out is a bit harsh, but it’s amazing how quickly the ceiling (and the hype that drove that perception) drops once they are off the RedSox roster. Were Moss/Morris/Hansen really expected to amount to anything?

I wonder if the Victor Martinez trade for the Indians will look similarly in the next year or two. Masterson’s a middle reliever masquerading as a starter, Price who knows, and Hagadone has upside but he was coming off TJ surgery.

I know the GM’s scout and have their own evaluations but I wonder how much the continuous media hype of prospects (especially the RedSox and to a slightly lesser extent the Yankees) impact these trades. I know it won’t drive the trades, but I do wonder if it influences the GM’s perceptions of the prospects to any extent?.

DanH
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DanH
5 years 11 months ago

Yes Morris is supposed to amount to something. And he was a Dodgers prospect, not a Sox prospect. He is a 23 year old starting in High A due to this being his 2nd year (first full) from Tommy John surgery. He was a former 1st round pick back in 2006. It’s way, way too early to write off a guy like Morris, espcially given how well he has come back from major surgery.

matt w
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matt w
5 years 11 months ago

LaRoche was also a Dodgers prospect. And Moss and Hansen weren’t particularly hyped, as I remember — they were pretty much throw-ins in the deal, with the Sox’s main contribution being to send Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers.

(By the way, what’s the possessive form of Sox? I wrote Sox’s above, but I wouldn’t actually say Sox’s — I’d pronounce it as if it were the possessive of socks, which is socks’; but Sox’ looks ridiculous. Sox’x?)

Adam R.
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Adam R.
5 years 11 months ago

Morris is doing very well, too. I think he could be a 3 starter at least.

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