Where Is LaPorta’s Power?

To say that Matt LaPorta disappointed in his first 623 professional plate appearances would be to grossly understate the expectations for him. He was, after all, a two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year with Florida, and then went seventh overall in the draft to a team that already had a budding superstar at the position. Baseball America described his power as game-changing and noted that he “can drive the ball out of the park to all fields when he gets his arms extended.” It’s understandable, then, why he was the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia deal, and why he figured to be Cleveland’s first baseman of the future.

While he has shown significant improvement this season, he still hasn’t put everything together. At age 26, it’s looking less and less likely that he will. It doesn’t preclude him from becoming a useful player, but his window to superstardom is open only a crack, if at all.

In April it was hard to not get excited about LaPorta. He might have hit only .247, but he belted four homers and four doubles, good for a .234 ISO. There’s that well above-average power that Baseball America had praised; that ISO ranked 33rd among 194 qualified hitters in April. He also drew a walk in 11.2% of his plate appearances, a rate that approximated his rate in the upper minors and exceeded his rate during his first two big-league stints. If a few more singles dropped in, he could be well on his way to fulfilling at least some of his potential, albeit a bit later than expected.

In May things changed a bit. There’s a note on his Rotoworld page that his OPS had fallen from .857 at the end of April to .778 through May 15. That made me wonder what happened, but as with most statistical issues at that point (and still at this point), it had to do with end points and fickle samples more than performance. LaPorta actually had a.818 OPS at the end of April, but boosted it to .857 with a 2 for 3, 2 2B performance on May 1. Really, LaPorta’s May has been no worse than his April in the aggregate. He’s struggled in some ways, but has excelled in others.

LaPorta’s power is certainly down this month, as he has yet to hit a home run. His .167 ISO for the month is much closer to average than well above average. He has also walked a bit less, at just 7.3%. But he’s hitting .333, including six doubles, thanks to a .429 BABIP. That has his wOBA for the month at .387, after .361 in April. It’s a shame that the hits are falling when the power has dropped off, but LaPorta has managed to remain productive despite the discrepancy. His current season wOBA, .369, ranks 41st out of 192 qualified hitters, and 13th among first baseman. It’s not the stuff of superstars, but it certainly puts him on pace for a season that, given his previous struggles, was tough to envision.

There is one interesting twist here that you can interpret as either damning him or setting up hope for the future: his home/road splits. At home he’s doing everything better, hitting .298/.379/.596, including three of his four homers. That’s good for a .421 wOBA. On the road he’s at .250/.328/.375, a .316 wOBA. This stands in contrast to his 2009 and 2010 seasons, in which he hit .206/.287/.386 (.297 wOBA) at home and .255/.325/.390 (.318 wOBA) on the road. That’s based on about a season’s worth of data, and there’s not much of a discrepancy. That is, could it be that he’s just on an incredible tear at home this year, one that will cool down as the season wears on? After all, he has only 66 PA at home, and we know how quickly players can turn around after that point.

Last Friday Eric Seidman studied underproducing prospects and how they performed in their mid- to late-20s. While LaPorta doesn’t fall into Eric’s precise sample — he debuted at age 24 — everything else about him seems to fit. He produced -0.1 WAR through his first two big-league forays, and so he looks a lot like the players Eric described. While some of those underperformers did turn it around, on average they did not. There’s certainly a chance that LaPorta, finally settled into a regular role at his regular position, has figured things out at age 26. But considering his performance this season, and especially his torrid performance at home, we can temper expectations for the time being. He doesn’t look much at all like the guy whose power was so greatly hyped early in his career.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

17 Responses to “Where Is LaPorta’s Power?”

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  1. Anon says:

    Picked the wrong day to publish this.

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  2. Mason says:

    For what it’s worth he’s faced Trever Cahill, Brett Anderson, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, David Price, and James Shields so far this month. So out of 12 games in the month he’s faced excellent pitching in half of them. In the games not against those pitchers this month he’s 10 for 20 with five doubles.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      That may all be true, but if you are completely hopeless against guys from 3 and up in their rotations, aren’t you a fringe-y ML starter? Isn’t that the point of this article?

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      • B N says:

        Well, with the exception of maybe Anderson, all of those guys would be a #1 or #2 on most teams. So that doesn’t sound all that fringy, especially for a younger player.

        With that said, he is a 1B/OF type- so if he can’t ever figure out the top guys I agree he’ll be riding a decent amount of pine over his career.

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  3. isavage30 says:

    Interestingly timed article, referencing his OPS through May 15th. Goes to show how a results over a small sample can change dramatically with one good day. Laporta’s current OPS is .847 after a 4-4 day with 2 doubles off the wall.

    He’s looked good on some at bats, very, very bad on others. Seems he’s still struggling from a hip injury he had at the end of ’09 which threw his swing out of whack. I would say that injury is definitely what’s sapped his power, if he can get more consistent he could start putting up some decent power numbers, though I’d be pretty shocked if he turned into a “superstar”

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  4. Scott from Cleveland says:

    As a diehard Tribe fan, LaPorta’s problem looks fairly simple, at least from TV. It looks like he has a little more trouble picking up the big league pitches, which forces him to sort-of flail at a lot of pitches with his arms, rather than using his hips to drive the ball. However, due to his raw power, he still has the ability to probably hit 20ish home runs swinging like this. I still think that if he can learn to consistently use his whole body in his swing that he could still be a star…he seems to have everything else down pretty well.

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    • Scott from Cleveland says:

      It could also have to do with the hip injury like isavage said above my post. But either way, he doesn’t drive with his hips nearly as often as he needs to.

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      • isavage30 says:

        I think it’s bad habits from the hip injury, or possibly the hip still actually bothers him. He’s very inconsistent from swing to swing, and at bat to at bat right now, it’s like he forgets to use the lower part of his body and does the flailing thing about 50% of the time … I think last night was the first time all year that I’ve seen him not give away at least 2 at bats, could have something to do with the quality of the pitches he was seeing of course.

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  5. Bill says:

    “To say that Matt LaPorta disappointed in his first 623 professional plate appearances would be to grossly understate the expectations for him.”


    He’s got over 1790 professional plate appearances.

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  6. Bill says:

    I think the words you were looking for were MAJOR LEAGUE and AT BATS.

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  7. Brent says:

    Matt Laporta in my opinion is right on course with expectations. I mean let’s look more closely at numbers that can be read a million different ways. Forget the numbers look at where he is batting and whether he is batting with runners on base or not. Where is there a guy exceeding expectations this year that isn’t batting directly behind a guy whose on base percentage is above expectations. He has hit many balls off the wall, hit doubles with as you say an injured hip, and has nowhere near the at bats that others in his shoes have. If you look at his pitch selection, he has hit for power every imaginable pitch thrown by as noted above ‘some of the league’s best pitchers.” Let’s give a him a full year in the slot before we use numbers to be-little him. I promise you Matt Laporta’s 20 home runs a year will be more than the Indians have seen in a log time if he hits 20. I want him to hit Ribby’s and extra base hits. I like our First baseman.

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  8. gareth says:

    All Laporta needs to do is have a season like Ryan Garko had in for us in 2007 (Something like 22 HRS, 90 RBI) and I’ll be happy as a Tribe fan.

    We have Santana, Choo, Hafner and Sizemore (when healthy) to provide power. Brantley gets his fair share of runs and hits for average. The two Cabrera’s have been RBI machines and even Jack Hannahan has been clutch.

    I’m basically saying that this current lineup takes the pressure off Matt to be the run producing, home run hitting superstar that he was projected to be.

    As an observer it is obvious that he is more relaxed at the plate this year. He has also lost a little bulk and seems to have recovered from the stifling injuries of last year.

    He has beeen a productive cog in the machine so far. So has Brantley. With CC Sabathia looking shaky lately, it sure is a good time to revise that trade.

    I’d say player wise its close, but obviously the Sabathia’s of this world don’t grow on tree’s, so I give the Yankees the edge. BUT….. When you compare what the players are geting paid (League minimum V’s 25 million), Look at room for growth and improvement, Look at cost controlled years, AND add in a solid relief trade chip in Rob Bryson, then the trade becomes a win for the Tribe.

    The most amazing part is that the Tribe got Brantley, Laporta and Bryson in return for a TWO MONTH rental of Sabathia and the common knowlege in Baseball that He was not going to re-sign with the indians. The fact the Front Office got the quality they did with their backs against the wall is commendable.

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  9. LionoftheSenate says:

    Brewers completely ripped off the Indians in the CC deal.

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    • drl says:

      They sure have a lot to show for it right now.

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      • Tom says:

        Zing! I have to think that comment was a joke though. The Brewers “went for it” and gave up 4 players for 18 starts by CC who carried them to the playoffs and then lost the only game he started there. The Indians gave up essentially nothing. I guess you could say they gave up the draft picks they would have gotten if CC left after the season but that’s it.

        Whatever your current opinion on LaPorta is I think the verdict is still out and Rob Bryson is having success in the minors so that seems like a pretty good deal for the tribe.

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  10. Lloyd mclendon says:


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