Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pittsburgh Pirates PWMBA: Andy LaRoche

If you take the time to research Andy LaRoche you will find a lot of articles with phrases like "failing to live up to the hype" and "lackluster major league career." Also, thanks to me now, there is an article that links "Andy LaRoche" and "punching babies."

LaRoche joined the Pirates late last year as part of the Manny trade. His first year and a half with the Dodgers were unimpressive to say the least (OPS of .671 and .641, EqA of .245 and .231). It is therefore not surprising that the Dodgers were willing to let him go despite good minor league numbers (OPS 2006 AA: .901, 2006 AAA: .950, 2007 AAA: .987). LaRoche was on a fast track to becoming LA's solid third base starter but instead everyone is trying to figure out what went wrong.

The trade to Pittsburgh brought LaRoche to his brother Adam's team, which (as I'm sure the Pirates management thought) in addition to being a good marketing tool might also help Andy relax and work out some of his problems. Initial indications are that this has not happened as in 49 games with the Pirates in 2008 he posted a line of .152/.227/.232. In addition all fielding metrics I have seen indicate that LaRoche has been an average to below average fielder at third base as well.

So what did go wrong? Well for one thing LaRoche was very unlucky in 2008. His cumulative BABIP for the year was 0.177. His LD% was 15.6 so it can be expected that his BABIP will be higher this year. In 2007 his BABIP was .294 and his LD% 18.6, much more in line with expected ratios. The real shock though is his apparent loss of power. In his total minor league career of 495 games LaRoche has posted a .517 SLG, and his lowest total for a complete year (excluding 2003 when he played 6 games as a 19 year-old) was .428 last year in only 45 games. LaRoche's highest SLG year in the majors was .312 in 2007 in 35 games. LaRoche seems to have a good batting eye and takes a good amount of walks (1 in every 8.6 MLB PA).

Hopefully LaRoche was able to work out his problems this past offseason. Most projections seem to think he will bounce back and get his BABIP up around the .265 area. His problem will be getting his power back up, and these same projections all predict him to have what would be his highest MLB SLG year. I see one problem with this: PNC park has been a low HR ballpark for the past several years and although it has in a couple years been favorable to the hitter for hits, the rate was never above 1.118 in the last five years. It is therefore difficult to expect LaRoche to get a boost in power numbers from his home stadium.

LaRoche may continue to develop as a hitter but it would be hard to expect him to post numbers similar to his minor league numbers that made him a hot prospect. It is also reasonable to expect his defense to be average at best. I would expect that LaRoche will continue to be slightly below average and therefore fit in well with the Pirates.

1 comment:

  1. I'll catch myself on this since no one else did: I should have looked at home away splits and PNC Park vs. Dodger Stadium, which is a notorious pitcher's park. I guess no one cares enough about the Pirates to even get that far into this article.