Monday, September 15, 2008

Andy LaRoche needs to play

There's been a lot of talk in a lot of places lately about Andy LaRoche's poor performance with the Pirates and I haven't really said much about it beyond reiterating my opinion that 1.) he was a good acquisition for the Pirates and 2.) he needs to keep playing every day. With Dejan asking Neal Huntington about LaRoche's continued playing time in the face of Huntington's "no more scholarships" statement from a week ago, now seems as good a time as any to tackle this. So in order, let's break this down a little better.

It's been 132 plate appearances
LaRoche's time with the Pirates represents the only regular and extended Major League playing time he's gotten, so that's all we're going to consider. While he was with the Dodgers he was yanked up and down and rarely got a regular shot to be the starting third baseman. Nate McLouth seems to be to be pretty good proof that some guys play better with a regular lineup slot and so we're going to toss his Dodgers' numbers out.

Yes, LaRoche's .168/.238/.271 line in that time span is beyond terrible. In 2073 minor league plate appearances, he hit .294/.380/.517. In AAA, he's got a .310/.412/.544 line with most of the plate appearances there coming at the ages of 22 and 23. In his minor league career, he drew 243 walks against 294 strikeouts. This is a player that knows how to hit and a player that will hit well at the major league level. What kind of message do the Pirates send by benching a player that they've given a six week chance for Doug Mientkiewicz? They didn't acquire LaRoche to win a playoff spot in 2008, they got him to build down the road. It sucks to watch him flail about at the plate, but it ultimately doesn't matter what he does this year if it helps him adjust for next year. That's a hard pill to swallow, but it's the truth.

Andy LaRoche is not Zach Duke
Huntington's "no scholarships"comments was clearly geared towards players like Duke who have performed terribly for some time now and still been handed starting jobs. Jose Castillo spent four years underachieving. He's gone now. Duke has been terrible since 2005. He's going to be lucky to find a rotation spot next year. Ronny Paulino spent over a year acting like the catcher's job was his right (thanks, Jim Tracy) and as a result he spent this year in AAA. All of these guys struggled with the Pirates for much longer than Andy LaRoche has and none of them have minor league track records that even hold a candle to LaRoche's. It's not like he's quit on the team this year. After going hitless in 21 straight at-bats, he had three hits on Sunday. The quotes from Huntington today seem to indicate he's happy with his effort to this point. Obviously he has to eventually hit in Pittsburgh to earn his spot here, but he's got to be given a chance not to hit first.

The Dodgers are a terribly run organization
I swear to Joe Pesci that if one more person makes this argument to me ... I can't even type the words that this line of thinking makes me want to say because I'd be ashamed to admit I know words that dirty. Read this for an accurate description of what Ned Colletti has done this year (if you don't want to read, they basically took a wad of cash and threw it at the wall and looked for what stuck). The Dodgers are run by Colletti, assistant GMs Logan White and Kim Ng, and owner Frank McCourt. From what I can understand, no one in baseball has any idea who's actually in charge there and I don't know if the Dodgers know either. They didn't want LaRoche. That's like saying that because Dave Littlefield didn't want Chris Young, no one should've given him a chance. I have no idea if Huntington's assertion that six teams have inquired about Andy LaRoche is true, but it seems believable to me that well-run teams would want to take a shot at a very good prospect after he's bottomed out with the Pirates.

Becoming a good player is more important than learning to win
Look, I'm not making excuses for anyone. If it's next June and LaRoche hasn't shown any signs of improvement, then I'm going to be reevaluating my opinions of him and it'd be stupid if Neal Huntington wasn't doing the same thing. For now, though, it just doesn't matter. Doug Mientkiewicz could take the field at third base for the rest of the season all be all gritty and veterany and do hilarious things like slap the ball out of Aaron Miles' glove and make witty quotes about it and maybe we'd win one or two more games this year. The difference between 65 wins and 67 wins is exactly nothing. The young guys on this team like LaRoche don't need to "learn how to win," they need to become better baseball players. They're only going to do that on the field.