Keep Andy LaRoche in the lineup

If there is one thing that frustrates me about the new management team, it is their unwillingness to give younger players extended opportunities to play at the major league level. On June 27, 2007, starting centerfielder Chris Duffy was injured and placed on the DL. Nate McLouth, a 25-year-old centerfielder with a solid minor league performance history, replaced him and hit .260/.351/.505 from June 28 through September 2. After that, he started only 11 of the final 26 games. Steve Pearce, who had destroyed minor league pitching that season, started just 11 of those games as well. Over that same period, Nyjer Morgan made 24 starts. Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, both established players with nagging injuries, continued receiving regular playing time in a lost season.

The Pirates created two giant outfield holes when Bay and Nady were dealt at last year’s deadline. It was the perfect opportunity to give Pearce a look. After receiving regular playing time for a few weeks, Pearce was shipped back to Triple-A. He returned when rosters expanded in September, but only started six of the next 20 games. The Pirates repeatedly wasted playing time on Morgan and Jason Michaels. Finally, an injury to Brandon Moss gave Pearce his chance, allowing him to start the final six games of the season. In that very small sample, he hit .320/.320/.720 with three home runs. In 2009, Pearce was again shipped to Triple-A as Morgan was named the starting left fielder.

Are we seeing the same thing happen to Andy LaRoche? LaRoche has not had a great start to the season, with zero hits in 14 at-bats. But that is no reason to put him on the bench, which John Russell has done three times in the first seven games. I missed the series in St. Louis, but LaRoche has hit a few balls with authority in the games I have seen. FanGraphs supports that assessment, with an impressive line drive percentage of 27.7% in the early going. He is still hitting well, but his balls in play are simply finding gloves. That will change over time, but not if LaRoche is sitting on the bench. Ramon Vazquez is a decent bench option, but he should not be receiving regular starts over LaRoche.

This is a disturbing trend we are witnessing, with borderline to superior prospects being pushed aside by older stopgaps. Dave Littlefield may have wasted precious years of productivity by refusing to give opportunities to McLouth and Ryan Doumit. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Andy LaRoche should be starting virtually every game of the 2009 season.

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6 Responses to “Keep Andy LaRoche in the lineup”

  1. Randy Linville Says:

    I agree. Give LaRoche the vast majority of starts over the first 40-50 games and see what he can do. If the guy can’t get it straightened out in 150 ABs, send him to the minors to let him play everyday and look elsewhere for the time being in the Majors. As you said, the Pirates won’t contend this year. So, giving him an extended look won’t hurt.

  2. Bob Whaley Says:

    Nyjer Morgan seems pretty impressive to me. He seems to me to being playing as though he wants to stay on the roster. He exemplifies that attitude as much as anyone on the squad. I like to watch him play.
    Whether or not Andy LaRoche should be played more than Ramon Vazquez is questionable.
    My only hope for the Pirates this year is that they finish at .500 or better. I hope John Russell moves people around or lets them play based on achieving that goal.
    Indeed, the Pirates will undoubtedly not contend this year, but 17 losing seasons seems worse to me than giving up games for player development.

  3. Curse of Bonds Says:

    I agree with giving players a chance to develop. It seems that management subscribes to that theory at least from what I can tell. The post gazette has a story today that Andy has been having issues with his back again so hopefully that is the cause for he sitting and not a knee-jerk reaction to he poor start.

  4. tim Says:

    Let Andy play! No wonder the Pirates never win games because they pull this kind of crap.

  5. buc-wheat Says:

    It’s a moot point. LaRoche and everyone else were shot! 😉
    Navy Kills 9 Pirates After They Take 2-1 Lead Over Mets
    http://notthelatimes.com/pirates.html

  6. Jim D Says:

    This is so right how can he get in a grove and start hitting when he isn’t playing plus this might be hurting his confidence and makingit worse
    http://dominytime.mlblogs.com/


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