Thursday, October 09, 2008

Looking back on 2008: The Adam LaRoche problem

Perhaps because I am a glutton for punishment, I took the numbers that Adam LaRoche put up in 112 games after May 1st this year and extrapolated them for a 152-game season. If Adam were healthy all year and able to hit in April, this is what we might've seen from the guy this year:

.291/.358/.551 with 33 home runs, 108 RBIs, and 39 doubles.

Of course, it's unfair to Adam and to everyone to run the numbers like that because there are a lot of factors involved, but it really does underscore just how damaging and maddening LaRoche's April struggles truly are. One bad month a year is all it takes to change him from a borderline All-Star first baseman to a borderline average one. This is what maddens me when people make Hall of Fame arguments for borderline cases like Bill Mazeroski with things like, "Well, if he just had two more hits per month over his entire career, he'd be a .280 hitter!" He didn't and that's why Maz was a .260 hitter (who deserves to be in the Hall based on his glovework and the greatest home run in the history of baseball, don't get me wrong). Similarly, LaRoche doesn't hit in April and wondering what he'd be like if he did is pointless.

LaRoche's April swoons madden me for other reasons, too, though. In general, I'm a pretty analytical guy and I enjoy having explanations for things. The year that Jason Bay got almost no hits with runners in scoring position, many people brushed him off as "not clutch." Instead, it seems more likely that it could be explained by the one weak spot in his swing (breaking pitches low and away) and his terrible average and slugging percentage that year in any situation that involved runners on bases that weren't first base. With people on base the pitchers hammered away at that spot and either got him out or walked him, which was fine so long as first base was open. That's a much more satisfying answer than "he's not clutch." That's the reason I did that long post about Ian Snell the other night, because "he lost it and maybe he found it at the end of the year" just doesn't sit right with me.

For LaRoche, "He can't hit in April" is literally all there is and I find that maddening. I've made guesses about his big, looping swing taking a long time to adjust to big-league pitching, but it shouldn't take that long. And he hits in Spring Traning. And he hits in May. In April, he's a bad hitter. That's all there is to it and I can't figure out why and it drives me at least a little nuts. Should he see a shrink to convince him the season starts a month late? Should he put all of his change into his left pocket, tilt his hat left, untie his left shoe, and bat cross-handed? Should he just keep plugging away and hope that he finally figures it out? I don't know. I wish I did.