Sunday, September 16, 2012

LaRoche takes it up a notch

US Presswire photo
Adam LaRoche is two homers and six RBI away from matching his career highs.
ATLANTA -- One of the central figures in the Nationals' 5-4 loss yesterday was Adam LaRoche, though certainly not for the reason he would have preferred. After being called by umpire Marvin Hudson for not keeping his foot on first base on a routine, sixth-inning grounder, the veteran's imprint on the outcome of the game was sealed.

If not for that botched call, LaRoche might well have been the central figure in a Nationals victory for what he had done way back in the first inning, something he has done plenty of times this year: Hit a ball out of the park.

With a two-run blast off the Braves' Tommy Hanson, LaRoche recorded his 30th home run of the season, a milestone he would have enjoyed celebrating if not for the events of the remainder of the evening.

"It's always nice to hit a mark or a milestone on a win," he said. "So [it's] a little bittersweet. But it's nice."

It's more than nice, both for the Nationals and LaRoche. After an injury-plagued 2011 and a rumor-filled winter that had many wondering if general manager Mike Rizzo was going to sign Prince Fielder to a mammoth contract and dump LaRoche (and his $8 million salary) to the curb, it's worth noting now just how much the Nats benefited from sticking with the status quo.

Not that Fielder wouldn't have been a nice addition to what has become one of the most-potent lineups in baseball. But the disparity in performance between the two first basemen isn't nearly as large as the disparity between their contracts ($214 million vs. $8 million).

Fielder has put up his customary gaudy numbers in his first season in Detroit: 26 homers, 98 RBI, a .304 batting average, .404 on-base percentage, .513 slugging percentage and .917 OPS.

LaRoche's comparable numbers: 30 homers, 94 RBI, .269 average, .340 on-base percentage, .505 slugging percentage and .845 OPS.

Factor in defense, of course, and LaRoche closes the gap by a significant amount. The two have a nearly identical WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season, according to Baseball-Reference's formula, with Fielder (3.4) narrowly edging out LaRoche (3.2). Fangraphs, which uses a slightly different formula in calculating WAR, has Fielder at 4.2 and LaRoche at 3.1.

The point, though, isn't to do a complete, side-by-side comparison of the two, but rather to reiterate how valuable LaRoche has been to the Nationals. Rizzo talked all spring about the consistent numbers LaRoche has posted throughout his career and how he fully expected the now-healthy first baseman to return to his career norms.

LaRoche has indeed done that, but he's stepped it up a notch or two as well. Though he's averaged 28.8 homers in each of his last seven healthy seasons, this is only the second time he's hit 30 (he hit a career-best 32 in 2006 with the Braves). And though he's averaged 88.5 RBI during those same seven seasons, he's already notched the second-most in his career (94) with a good chance to top his personal best mark of 100 set in 2010 with the Diamondbacks.

And none of this takes into account the different LaRoche has made in the field, both in his ability to field balls hit in his direction but more importantly his ability to catch wayward throws from his infielders (a skill that isn't measured by any advanced metric).

You don't have to convince Davey Johnson of LaRoche's importance to his team.

"He takes a lot of heat off everybody, and he's having an unbelievable year," the manager said a few days ago in New York. "He should be in the MVP consideration."

While LaRoche won't be a serious challenger to Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun in the actual MVP vote, his value within the Nationals clubhouse is well-known.

The Nationals and LaRoche face a key decision this winter. There's a $10 million mutual option left on his contract, which the Nats are sure to pick up, but LaRoche is likely going to want a longer commitment than that, creating a dilemma in which Rizzo has to decide how many more years he's willing to guarantee a first baseman who turns 33 in November.

For now, the Nats are simply happy they stuck with LaRoche for 2012, confident he would post his usual, consistent numbers and thrilled he's taken it up another notch.

33 comments:

smurff said...

Adam Cool, as FP calls him. I'd like to see him back for a couple of years. But someone will likely offer him more than that.

MicheleS said...

Adam better win the Gold Glove, and if Zim wins one, he should give it to Adam.

Feel Wood said...

Keep LaRoche. Let Jackson walk.

Section 222 said...

If Zim wins one? Not likely. ALR is the only thing that stands between Zim and having one of the worst fielding percentages in the league.

I'm not too proud to say that ALR totally demolished my preseason prediction that he wouldn't be able to come back from labrum surgery. I'm very glad to have been proven wrong on that one. He's had a great year, one of his best ever.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Every milestone ALR gets to is cha-ching for his next contract.

Go ALR!

peric said...

It all depends. He'll be able to pick up more $$ plus more years in free agency. The Nats are unlikely to match ... at this point.

If he helps them get over these final bumps and then has an outstanding playoff series? Then perhaps ...

But, with the younger Rendon, and Zimmerman needing to move to first base in an attempt to diminish his 3 year spate of injuries?

I don't see it at this point.

Scooter said...

No doubt, LaRoche saves a few errors. But 222, you might want to check Zimmerman's error totals from prior years. This year hasn't been some gigantic mprovement, I don't think.

I suspect that we overrate the value added by LaRoche's picking. Remember, Dunn stank on ice, but he had an extra 6 inches of reach, and he made the occasional scoop too.

peric said...

If Rendon were a left-handed bat there wouldn't even be a discussion. But Rizzo and the FO have three legitimate younger, good fielding left handed bats for the outfield even after Bryce Harper.

In the end Davey is the "tie-breaker". But, he seems the type to wait and see what happens first with this season ... then check out the performances in the AFL.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

He gone. Tyler Moore your everyday 2013 Washington Nationals first baseman.

ALR is going to get $30-$40 million a year, multiple years. No way the Lerners are going to bite on that line.

Section 222 said...

Good point Scooter. I think Dunn actually was a better "picker" at first than he got credit for. His range and hands on the other hand... But I think Zim's throwing has actually been worse this year, and ALR has saved him quite a bit. So the comparison with his past years might even be worse than we think.

Scooter said...

Dammit. Lost my comment. Anyway, Zimmerman's fielding percentage is slightly below career norm this year. And his career has seen some bad first basepersons.

Also, I love watching Adam LaRoche play. Good for him.

baseballswami said...

Do you really think ALR can cash in as a first baseman? Just seems like there are plenty of those to go around, and plenty of aging middle-infielders that teams want to move over there, and plenty of them coming up.Any contract is going to be need-based. Are there any major 1B's retiring? Also - the Giants are putting Posey there to preserve his body, the Twins are doing the same with Mauer. Might not be a great big market.We could conceivably put any number of people there next year. They won't be nearly as good defensively, but offensively they would hold up. I personally would rather keep the defensive pro. Tyler Moore could be that guy going forward. Of course he isn't as good defensively right now,especially with his having played in the outfield, but with playing time and experience, he could be really good. I don't know what kind of a 1B he was in the minors. Can we just keep sticking him in Syracuse or on the bench? Just seems like Lombo and TyMo would be wasted staying there at this point in their careers.

SCNatsFan said...

baseballswami, a very weak class of FA first basemen this spring. ALR will cash big time.

JamesFan said...

This is the toughest off-season decision for the Nats. If he were a couple of years younger, it's a no-brainer, but he's 32 and will ask for a huge contract. I wish I knew more about Moore's fielding. My guess is that Moore would match his bat, but the ALR glove is excellent and Zim needs a picker at first. Morse is the other option, but I don't see them putting Moore in the outfield. Tough call.

NatsFanJim said...

Scooter: Only here would I read a straight-faced comparison to La Roche and Dunn in the area of fielding.

What Kool-aid are you quaffing down?

NatsFanJim said...

Who doesn't love LaRoche? Unfortunately, he is standing in the way of a lot of young talent ready to makes its mark. There is no mistake why there is virtually no talk from the Nats or La Roche for that matter on resigning him.

I would imagine he will be gone after this year. Personally, I wish they would sign him to a lucrative 2-year deal, move some young talent and upgrade in the hitting department. LaRoche has been the heart and soul of this team; it will be hard to see him go.

NatsFanJim said...

I really chuckled when I read Scooter saying "Laroche has saved a few errors."

Think for a moment how many errors Saintly Rzim would hAve without LaRoche at first to bail him out.

I would venture a guess at 20 errors and counting. And with Dunn at first?? Oh Lord, that's a nightmare I don't even want to entertain.

Manassas Nats' Fan said...

Go Nats

rabbit34 said...

We have a lot of holes to fill. Way too many strikeouts. Put the whole infield except LaRoche on the block. Yep, even Zimmerman the strikeout man. Nice to see Werth, a catcher or two, Bernadina, Morse, and Jackson bring in some good hole fillers. This year, it's strike three. There are too many games left to play and too many strikeouts to come. Next year will be better.

NatsFanJim said...

And let's not forget that Morse is a superior fielding first baseman to Moore. Moore is a country boy long ball artist, but a fielding stiff, both in Left and at First.

Don't count Michael Morse out of the running for 1b next year providing ALR moves on.

rabbit34 said...

Actually, Moore in place of LaRoche is fine. Bye bye LaRoche!

NatsFanJim said...

Rabbit: I don't think the Nats are going to put RZim, Desi, and Espi "on the block." RZimm is an error waiting to happen, but at the plate: he's an all-star. Desi is getting better and better both in the field and at the plate. Espi? You've got a point there. But his huge holes are worth fixing. Surely you were joking in your post.

NatsFanJim said...

Resigning Laroche to a one or two year deal would be smart.

NatsFanJim said...

Hey: Where's the Forum Police? The Sensitivity Supreme Court Forum Judge;

Swift.

Don't forget, gang, to get your posts filtered, edited, and approved by Chief Justice, Swift before Posting.

baseballswami said...

I don't recall Moore being a liability at first. I haven't seen his minor league numbers, but he is not Adam Dunn. When he has played there, he is not in the ALR league, but who is? He did well there - it's his natural position. I would be ok with him starting his career with the team there next year. How old is he? Do you think ALR was this good as a rookie? ALR has bounced around a lot. He is very good as a seasoned veteran. You have to start somewhere.

baseballswami said...

And so is this first base, ALR, Moore conversation really distracting anyone from the fact that those number up in the corner are stuck?

DaveB said...

One interesting twist in the ALR signing discussion is that the Nats will have the ability to make a "qualifying offer" to him (assuming he turns down the $10M offer). This is probably more than anyone else would offer per year, and furthermore would discourage some teams from bidding for him since they would have to give up their 1st round draft pick). Will make it interesting to see if Adam might be willing to sign up for one (fairly lucrative) year with a fun upcoming team, vs signing a multiyear contract elsewhere.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Re: Swift...he's probably like the rest of us.....laughing at the malarkey you two (NFJ and rabbit) are spouting off to each other.

Oldguy said...

Meanwhile, it looks as if the Astros may take 3 of 4 from Philly. Amazing.

Scooter said...

NatsFanJim said...
Scooter: Only here would I read a straight-faced comparison to La Roche and Dunn in the area of fielding.


You mean the one where I said Dunn "stank on ice"? Yes, I suppose saying that LaRoche is much better is in fact a comparison. You've got me there.

peric said...

Its going to be Zimmerman at first. Best fielding first baseman to-be they've got. Best hitter on the club unless/until Bryce Harper makes himself into that. Rendon is a gold glove third bagger to-be. You don't find guys that are excellent hitters right out of college (might be the best in over a decade) that can field at that level.

Moore and Morse make up the right handed hitting outfielders to go along with Werth and lefties? Harper, Bernadina, Brown, and Goodwin.

The Nats are pretty well set for a very long time as a result.

peric said...

We have a lot of holes to fill. Way too many strikeouts. Put the whole infield except LaRoche on the block. Yep, even Zimmerman the strikeout man. Nice to see Werth, a catcher or two,

They have a place for Zim: 1st base. They have a place for Rendon: third base. They have places for Morse and More: left-fied (and for Morse some right field) They have plenty of "filler" in Bernadina, Brown, and Goodwin. And they have Harper.

By putting Zim at first and letting Rendon play third the Nats would have the best, most athletic infield in all of baseball ... and it would be a pretty fair starting lineup offensively. ALL have power. ALL have reasonable to great speed. ALL are for the most art, becoming pretty fair professional hitter. ALL are potential gold gloves at their position year-in and year-out for many years.

That is the Nat's FO's stratagem in a nutshell.

David said...

we need to try an outfield of Brown, Harper, Werth...

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