Last night, Matt LaPorta stepped to the plate in the sixth inning and launched a Vin Mazzaro sinker deep into the left field bleachers. That homer was a game-changer. Prior to LaPorta’s two-run shot, the Indians trailed the A’s 2-1 and had a 35 percent chance of claiming victory. After the blast, the Tribe had a better than 70 percent shot of getting the W. With the two clubs trading zeros from that point forward, Cleveland came out on top by a 3-2 score.
The Indians expected frequent offensive heroics from LaPorta after he was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in the July 2008 CC Sabathia trade. A fearsome slugger at the University of Florida, LaPorta thumped minor league pitchers for a .279/.386/.539 line in 433 plate appearances split between Milwaukee and Cleveland’s Double-A affiliates in ’08. LaPorta has also thrashed the opposition in Triple-A over the past two years, batting .310/.400/.548 in 474 PA. Yet, LaPorta’s feats of strength in the minors have been conspicuously absent in Cleveland.
In 525 major league PA over the 2009-2010 seasons, LaPorta has a .243/.309/.395 triple-slash. His wOBA is .310, and his park-and-league-adjusted wOBA is eight percent worse than the MLB average (92 wRC+). That would be acceptable if LaPorta were a slick defender at a premium position. But, considering that he’s a DH-worthy first baseman/corner outfielder, LaPorta’s lagging lumber has made him a replacement-level player. He has accumulated just 0.2 WAR in the majors.
LaPorta hasn’t been a total hacker, but his 8.4 percent walk rate is slightly below-average. The 6-foot-2, 210 pound hitter’s vaunted power hasn’t been on display, with a mundane .152 ISO. To some extent, LaPorta has been unlucky. His batting average on balls in play is .274, while his expected BABIP, based on his rate on home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, pop ups and fly balls, is .311. Still, he has shwon run-of-the-mill secondary skills instead of being a guy who takes and rakes with the best of them.
While LaPorta isn’t exactly thriving against fastballs, he’s at least holding his own (-0.1 runs per 100 fastballs seen). Against pitches that dip and dive, though? Well, LaPorta’s channeling his inner Pedro Cerrano. He has been -1.38 runs below average per 100 changeups seen, -1.48 runs/100 against curveballs and -1.62 versus sliders. These numbers might look worse than they should due to LaPorta’s low BABIP. But opposing pitchers seem to think he’s vulnerable against breaking balls and changeups. Over the past two calendar years, 309 hitters have gotten 500 or more big league PA. LaPorta ranks in the bottom 10% in terms of fastballs seen.
Matt LaPorta certainly isn’t a lost cause, and 500-some PA shouldn’t be used as some conclusive judgment of his abilities. But he is 25 years old now, and neither ZiPS (.253/.320/.414 rest-of-season line) nor CHONE (.264/.337/.446) throw out very optimistic projections. If LaPorta is going to be an asset for the Indians, he’s going to have to hang tough against secondary stuff and find the cheap seats more often.
Print This Post