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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