LaRoche Living Up To The Hype

The Piraes trade of Jason Bay has been slow to bear fruit. Three of the four players they received haven’t lived up to expectations – Brandon Moss has played at replacement level all season, Craig Hansen has been injured, and Bryan Morris was terrible and then hurt in A-ball. But, the key player to the deal was Andy LaRoche, and after a rough start to his Pirates career, he’s finally making fans appreciate the deal.

In September, LaRoche is hitting .347/.395/.640 in 82 trips to the plate. The most encouraging part for Pittsburgh fans has to be the power – 12 of his 26 hits have gone for extra bases this month after not having more than seven XBH in any prior month this season. Perhaps just as important, his revival has come after he hit just .188 in July and .205 in August, and looked to be on the verge of playing himself out of a job in 2010.

As a 26-year-old, LaRoche isn’ a kid anymore. He’s not going to keep getting chances bases on his minor league numbers, so a strong final month of the season was exactly what he needed. And, with the hot stretch, he’s raised his overall season line to .260/.335/.408, which makes him a league average hitter for the season.

As a solid defender at third, league average offense is enough to make him a pretty decent player. For the season, we’ve got him valued at +2.5 wins, which would be worth about $11 million on the free market. With an average across-the-board skillset, LaRoche isn’t likely to ever turn into a star, but for where Pittsburgh in his their rebuilding effort, he’s a better fit for the organization than keeping Bay would have been.

It took a while, but the Pirates can finally point to something more than hope for why they made the deal. With a strong finish to the season, LaRoche has given the team reason for optimism going forward, and that’s something that has been missing in Pittsburgh for quite a while.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


45 Responses to “LaRoche Living Up To The Hype”

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  1. Joe R says:

    My Sox screwed up Hansen imo. Called him up way too early, never let him get the development he needed. And of course, he’s been able to develop nothing resembling command.

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  2. steve-o says:

    I’m all for the Pirates to have reason for optimism but…“LaRoche Living Up To The Hype” “With an average across-the-board skillset, LaRoche isn’t likely to ever turn into a star.”

    You said it all Dave.

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  3. mike says:

    I agee with the above comment. This article was a complete waste of time. I’d like think the article would not have been conceived hadn’t LaRoche delivered a monster game on Monday against the Dodgers.

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    • Felonius_Monk says:

      Mike – that’s pretty f’ing weak. When the level of comment on this site reaches “OMG CAMERON YOU’RE SUCH A DOUCHE”, which it pretty much did a couple of months ago, I wonder whether it’s actually worth trailling through all the chaff in the comments to find the occasional bit of wheat.

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  4. wobatus says:

    $11 million? There’s no way he would command that in the open market. Based on amonth’s hot streak that got him to league average 3b hitter? How much of that league average is due to the marlins early Bonafaciatis?

    However, I gotta say I root for Andy to turn into the kind of player his minor league numbers suggested.

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  5. Sam says:

    Andy LaRoche, at 26, riding a hot month which is unsustainable ends the year as a league average player? Isn’t this exactly the kind of analysis that the writers on this site rail against?

    LaRoche had exactly two months of better than average performances with the bat: May and September/October. On four other months his OPS did not even touch .700. His major league career so far doesn’t inspire that he will be a league average hitter going forward on a sustainable basis.

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    • Not David says:

      This isn’t sustainable, but his previous awful months are? On what basis?

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      • Sam says:

        Have you checked his BABIP for the last month? It is .356. In May, it was .387.

        He is better than those previous awful months, but at age 26, it is hard to be very optimistic based on two good months. And yes, four months constitute a larger sample size than two. And if both of them are small samples, then they say nothing about what he will do going forward. Much less whether he lives up to whatever hype accompanied him to Pittsburgh.

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    • Teej says:

      Those two months happened.

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      • Sam says:

        As did those four months. What is your point?

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Sam, his point is that all players have good months and bad months. You should take into account BOTH the good months and the bad months. You seem to be looking at two good months, saying “oh, he had a slightly high BABIP” and discounting them entirely. LaRoche has put up more or less average numbers this year, and has done it in a reasonably streaky way. He’s had pretty poor luck in the months when his production has been poor, and pretty good luck in the months when his production has been good.

        He’s been about an average hitter. You seem to be suggesting that we should cherry-pick his worst months and regard him as less than that, which is totally disingenuous.

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      • Sam says:

        I think you misunderstood my point, and you can read in other posts that I have made.

        Have I seen a confidence interval, t-statistic and p-value based analysis which says something about whether those four months are statistically distinguishable from the other two months? Or whether those four months and those two months are distinguishable from his overall stat line?

        I am not suggesting any cherry picking, I am suggesting looking at the variance of the random variable to arrive at any statistical conclusion. Which is what any statistician worth his salt will do.

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      • JoeyO says:

        @Sam,

        “Have you checked his BABIP for the last month? It is .356. In May, it was .387.”
        “I am not suggesting any cherry picking, I am suggesting looking at the variance of the random variable to arrive at any statistical conclusion. Which is what any statistician worth his salt will do.”

        Meet your problem

        Correcting for BAbip fluctuations, we see this (factoring the BAbip as close as possible to .300)

        .254/.310/.365, .291 BAbip – April
        .255/.346/.383, .294 BAbip – May
        .265/.345/.378, .298 BAbip – June
        .259/.315/.365, .309 BAbip – July
        .295/.386/.443, .307 BAbip – Aug
        .281/.330/.521, .301 BAbip – Sept

        .269/.341/.412, .300 BAbip total

        When accounting for BAbip fluctuations, we see two poor months (April and July), two rather average months (May and June) and two very good months (August and September).

        Statistically, if we were to make a projection, the fact that 4 of the final 5 months were average to very good leads one down the positive production path. The fact that the final two months were the really strong ones strengthens this feeling even more.

        This makes it much more logical to expect average to even above average production going forward, and completely opposite from your original statement of
        “His major league career so far doesn’t inspire that he will be a league average hitter going forward on a sustainable basis.”

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    • Joe R says:

      This obviously isn’t Dave’s best effort, but this is not a good way to criticize it. Who’s to say those bad 4 months weren’t as much bad luck as his 2 good months were good luck, and that going forward LaRoche can be considered a 2.5-3 WAR guy (which obviously isn’t a star, but it’s more than useful).

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      • Sam says:

        My point is, we can’t say much. He doesn’t have a substantial body of work based on numbers to justify that he is league average. Yes, he in fact suffered from some bad luck. But he hasn’t accumulated enough data points to separate skill from luck.

        I can understand someone being optimistic about him based on scouting reports. Numbers don’t quite paint a very clear picture. How you wish to interpret them is going to be very subjective.

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      • R M says:

        So what do you suggest, that we simply wait to analyze a player until he has accumulated enough statistics to have a sufficient number of data points at the major league level?

        There is nothing inherent in his overall season line to suggest that he simply got lucky. Previously, he has had terrible luck, making your claim that “His major league career so far doesn’t inspire that he will be a league average hitter going forward on a sustainable basis” a much more unsubstantiated claim than the analysis that Dave put together in this article.

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    • MarkInDallas says:

      Actually LaRoche had 2 stretches totaling 73 games where he was very good, and 2 stretches totaling 76 games where he was very bad. See my breakdown below…

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  6. mymrbig says:

    For pretty much all players, a year consists of many “unsustainable” stretches that cumulatively result in more sustainable numbers. The fact that LaRoche The Younger had a couple very good months and a couple clunker months isn’t surprising in the least. Come on folks, hitters have a few very good months and a few very bad months all the time, but the end result is usually something close to their true talent level. It is foolish (and illogical) to focus only on LaRoche’s good months or bad months to argue anything.

    I think there has to be at least some reason for optimisim that he can show some continued progress. Obviously his power numbers haven’t lived up to what he showed in the minors. I think there are a lot of reasons for this (plays in a tough MLB ballpark for righties, played in some very good hitter parks in the minors, typical difference between MLB pitching and AAA pitching, some chronic injury issues). But his 8.9 BB% and 15.3 K% are both solid and improving his BB% is a possibility since he was routinely around 12% in AAA.

    Also, maybe he is just a low BABIP guy, but he is at .287 this year. That is pretty low for a guy who hits FB only 34.0% of the time. This is a generalization, but looking at players with similar batted ball profiles, LaRoche’s .287 BABIP stands out as one of the lower numbers.

    Basically, barring injury problems, I think he has a little more upside from 2.5 WAR than he has downside. Not a super star, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up being a fairly consistent 3.0 to 3.5 WAR player with some incremental improvements entering his prime, plus slightly better BABIP.

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  7. joser says:

    And then there’s the other LaRoache, who is like two different people before and after his trade away from Pittsburgh. He was A.J. Pierzynski with the Pirates….
    AdLaRo (PIT): .770 OPS, .328 wOBA
    A.J. Pierzynski: .763 OPS, .329 wOBA

    …and has turned into Joe Mauer with the Braves:
    AdLaRo (ATL): 1.020 OPS, .427 wOBA
    Joe Mauer: 1.038 OPS, .440 wOBA
    Well, ok, not quite. And of course, the Braves version of LaRoache has just 218 PA, so we’re still well within the bounds of small sample sillyness. Nevertheless, the comparison just amuses me.

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  8. Not David says:

    works*

    *sigh for lack of proofreading*

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  9. Bill says:

    There’s a pretty good article on LaRoche and luck from the pre-hot streak period here:
    http://mvn.com/pittsburghlumberco/2009/09/the-future-of-andy-laroche.html

    For the majority of the season LaRoche has had a much lower than expected BABIP, which had killed his numbers. LaRoche still has a pretty strong approach at the plate, which should help him going forward.

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  10. WY says:

    Is one league-average player really such a great haul for a year and a half of Bay? Is it really much reason for hope, given their holes in the rotation, in the middle infield, on the bench, and in the bullpen?

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    • MattB says:

      Bay has only been worth about 4 wins during his year and a half with Boston. If LaRoche ends up being worth approximately 3 wins per season over five years with the Pirates, I think that is a solid return.

      And I wouldn’t give up on Bryan Morris. He’s clearly had a difficult season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned it around.

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      • Joe R says:

        It’s like someone showed Jason Bay his UZR, I think it low-watered at -17, and now it’s -12.6 or something.

        Agent must’ve told him no one’s paying $14 mil / year for a 3TO, fielding impaired guy in his 30’s.

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      • joser says:

        Maybe he just figured out how to play left in Fenway. I honestly don’t trust UZR when it comes to LF in that park. Look at Manny before coming to Boston, while at Boston, and then in LA. Look at Bay before and after Fenway. I’m a little untrusting of UZR when players switch parks in general, but it seems to get especially chewed up by the green monster.

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    • Teej says:

      When you have him under control for five or six years and he doesn’t cost much, sure. The next good Pirates team could probably use a league-average third baseman, and they weren’t going to win in 2009 with or without Bay.

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      • WY says:

        Even so, the article seems like a contradiction. As an earlier commenter noted the key sentence: “With an average across-the-board skillset, LaRoche isn’t likely to ever turn into a star.” It would be one thing if he were an average player on a team with several above-average players, a decent payroll, and a good pitching staff, but that’s not really the case, is it? What about the middle infield, which seems completely barren? What about all of the other trades that seem to have brought in middling returns?

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      • Nats fan says:

        You guys forget he was traded for Bay who is not worth a heck of alot more than Laroche in total value (2.9 WAR last year 3.5 this year). All it takes is one of the other players in the deal to have a 1.5 WAR value and the pirates beat Boston in total WAR value and paid less cash for it. Its a good deal for the Pirates. Not eathshaking, but who expected that?

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  11. Nats fan says:

    2.5 wins is way better than Adam Dunn who has 1.4 WAR. Many of you consider Dunn a star! LaRoche is an above average defensive third basemen with a league average bat, so he is a plus player overall. Bay only earned 2.9 WAR last season between Pittsburg and Boston and 3.5 this season, so it looks likely the pirates got the better end of this deal slightly since the other players provide value as well. Money wise it is a huge deal for Pittsburg. I am glad they got one right for a change!

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    • WY says:

      You seem convinced that WAR can actually be measured to the nearest tenth of a win, and that these estimates in turn represent hard facts. That’s definitely not true.

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  12. Jeff says:

    Does Dunn really only have a 1.4 WAR???? I know he sucks at defense, but I think the formula for WAR must place too much emphasis on defense… Dunns bad defense cant possible take that much value away from him…

    I understand the formula, but I think every run abour replacement on the offensive side is more important than the other way around on defense… I think runs above on defense have just as much value, but I dont feel bad defense completely negates an offensive stud’s contributions with the bat…

    Just an observation… But I dont think WAR is the be all end all..

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    • Jeff says:

      Also, it isnt Dunns fault teams play him in the outfield… if he played 1st or DH he would be way more valuable according to WAR…

      I think this is a huge flaw in WAR…. I will take Dunn and his hitting over a no bat/good feilder with the same WAR anyday of the week… I would bet every single GM in baseball feels the same way… take Brandon Inge… great in the field, crap with the bat…. his WAR is WAY better than Dunn’s.. But if your telling me Inge helped his club more than Dunn I would tell you you are crazy… any GM in baseball would do the same…

      ALSO…

      Like I said starting out, it isnt Dunn’s fault he is in the outfield… So when the writers on this site want to base a players $$$ value based totally on WAR there is a huge flaw…

      According to that methodology, Dunn is only worth $7.5 million or so right??? But if he played at 1st and ended with a WAR around 3, then he would be worth $15 million all of a sudden?????

      So when Dunn’s next contract comes up, teams should pay him less because the Nats played him in Left instead of at 1st??? (assuming his production woudl stay the same)

      Trying to judge a players worth must be looked at more deeply than multiplying $5 million times the players WAR….

      Just my opinion though

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      • Noah says:

        Someone who knows more about this than me can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that this is where positional adjustments come in. The runs taken away from a 1B compared to a LF with all of the same statistics are intended to balance out how much easier 1B is to play than LF — that is, let’s say that the positional adjustment from LF to 1B is -10. This implies that a +10 run defending 1st baseman would provide average defensive value if his manager decided to play him in LF, meaning that theoretically it doesn’t affect his value where he is played.

        It’s probably not this simple, and maybe you disagree with the values of the various adjustments, but WAR does take this factor into account.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        Dunn is an appalling first baseman too. He’d probably be worth his greatest value as a DH. A DH positional adjustment is about -15 or so per season, Dunn’s worth about 35 runs/year with the bat. Add in replacement level and he’d be about a 4-win DH, which is a win or two shy of what big Papi was putting up a couple of years back.

        As a 1B he’d gain about 5 runs of positional adjustment, but probably lose at least another 10-15 or so on defence (he’s a career -16 runs/150 games on UZR aty 1B).

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      • Michael says:

        If you don’t trust the metric, there’s nothing I can really say to convince you. But your “defense is not worth offense” ideas are not what ALL GM’s think. I doubt Jack Z in Seattle, Beane in Oakland, or Epstein in Boston have as little faith in defensive metrics as you seem to have. Just based on how Seattle has rebuilt their team, you can tell that they have an interest in the value of defense.

        The fault perhaps in FanGraphs is that it’s presented as the only source for WAR up to date during the season, with UZR as the only freely available defense metric in-season. The reality with defense is that we likely should take multiple sources if we want to get the best run estimate.

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    • Michael says:

      Not this argument again. Why should offensive runs be worth more than defensive runs? It isn’t as if UZR or the other defensive metrics aren’t measured in terms of runs (or parts of runs, or whatever). There’s measurement error in the buckets, but that doesn’t mean we should arbitrarily downplay the weight of defensive runs.

      In addition, no one should be claiming that WAR is exact within a tenth of a win, or a run. It’s likely somewhere around +/- 5 or so runs anyway, just from UZR’s measurement error within a season. But again, that doesn’t mean I should weigh those runs as “half runs” or something, just means you need to take that into consideration when you’re making evaluations.

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  13. Ed Nelson says:

    I think people are getting worked up about Dunn’s WAR by equating the low number with a lack of value, which is silly. Here’s a great article about how power hitters can influence a club’s record
    http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=9329 (subscription only)

    WAR doesn’t examine what value that particular player’s specific skill set has for a particular club, and in some cases a guy like Dunn can provide a cascading effect in terms of how his offensive capabilities can effect the production of a lineup. That being said there has to be an objective way of measuring the totality of what a player contributes, and Dunn gives back a lot of what he gives.

    He’s not that different then Ben Gordon in basketball. Gordon’s scoring certainly has value, but as a total player he was a +/- of +24 over the entire 08/09 season compared to Kurt Hinrich’s +203 (in 30 fewer games no less). That’s a defensive liability exposed.

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  14. smuldoon says:

    The Bucs have been rebuilding since 1980,what a joke.Babe Ruth and CyYoung couldn’t help that team.What they’ve become is a great farm team for the majors.Pittsburgh was once a great baseball town,i feel for the fans that are left.Horrible management!Where have you gone Roberto Clemente?

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  15. smuldoon says:

    Laroche is a stiff.You know what WAR is it’s CRAP.

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  16. MarkInDallas says:

    The Good Andy / Bad Andy ratio isn’t 2 months / 4 months.
    It’s actually 73 games / 76 games.

    7 games from 4/6 to 4/15: no hits, 1 walk
    47 games from 4/16 to 6/8: .331 / .402 / .458
    70 games from 4/17 to 9/1: .201 / .287 / .325
    26 games from 9/2 to 10/4: .323 / .364 / .570

    There’s also no doubt that most of the difference in the BABIP comes from him hitting the ball harder in the good stretches. He’s probably not going to sustain averages in the .320’s, but I can see him hitting .320 in good stretches and .260 in bad, which will even out to about .290.

    I think he may finally be getting over the injury from last season and has strength back. He said he was at about 75% most of the season.

    With Bay’s defensive liabilities, Andy definitely has the potential to be worth more than Bay. With his switch to second base sometime next year, my guess is that LaRoche will be putting up stats very similar to Craig Biggio at the same age.

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  17. Adam Reynolds says:

    LaRoche isn’t living up to the hype, but he’s made the outcome of last year’s Bay trade mediocre instead of a total disaster. It could have been better because Bay’s perceived value was greater than his Fangraphs value but overall not too bad!

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