It has been a disappointing season for Andy LaRoche. With yesterday’s 1 for 4 performance, he is hitting .248/.328/.372, good for a .313 wOBA. All of those numbers are below average. In addition, while many have praised his play in the field, both UZR and John Dewan’s plus/minus system agree that he has been only an average defender this year. There is certainly value in having an average defensive third baseman, but that value diminishes greatly with the offensive performance we have seen from LaRoche. All things considered, he has not produced enough to be a major league regular.
However, if you dive a bit deeper into LaRoche’s peripheral numbers, there are some definite positives. Take a look at how he has controlled the strike zone this year.
As we can see from his O-Swing%, which simply measures the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that a batter has chased, LaRoche is doing a pretty solid job of staying patient. When he does offer at a pitch, he is making regular contact. Thus, he has produced above average walk and strikeout rates. These are all positives moving forward.
Let’s move on to LaRoche’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which currently sits at .278. Using batted ball info from Fangraphs and an expected BABIP calculator created by Chris Dutton and Peter Bendix, we can remove luck and random fluctuation from that number.
|Andy LaRoche, 2009|
|# Ground balls||195|
We come up with an expected BABIP of .312 for LaRoche, 34 points higher than his actual BABIP. That is a significant difference, likely among the largest in baseball (based on the 2008 numbers found by Chris and Peter). Let’s take a look at how much this poor fortune has affected his overall numbers.
To reach a .312 BABIP, LaRoche would need approximately 13 additional hits on the year. If we conservatively assume that each of those missing hits were a single, it would leave him with an expected line of .277/.350/.400. That is an above average on-base percentage with below average power. His wOBA would improve to slightly above average, at approximately .337.
Clearly, those numbers are no reason to be overly excited. However, with no improvement in his performance, simple regression should turn LaRoche into a slightly above average hitter. Combine that with average defense at third base, and we are talking about a decent starter on a good team. He will not be an impact player unless some additional power appears, but he will at least have a chance to hold on to his starting job down the road. Also, LaRoche just turned 26 this week, so there is still a chance he could develop a bit more of that missing power.
LaRoche’s rope is certainly getting shorter, with Pedro Alvarez rising through the system and additional corner infield depth appearing in both Pittsburgh and Triple-A. He will need to show something with the bat to remain in the lineup. Due to the numbers above, I would not be surprised if he turns it around in 2010.