If you could use one word to describe Adam LaRoche, what would it be? For those that have had him on their fantasy team, I’m sure that you chose the correct answer, “streaky.” For the record, I would have also accepted “hack-taker,” as well as “pain-in-the-ass,” and of course, “brother.” To those fantasy owners who are unfamiliar with the LaRoche, he can be summed up like this: when he’s hot, he’s hot, and when he’s not, he’s…absolutely brutal. Year after year, LaRoche’s M.O. remains the same: a slow starter who has a mediocre first half, followed by a blistering July and August, and ultimately finishes with respectable statistics. Similarly, year after year, those familiar with the Diamondbacks’ first baseman are left asking, what if? What if LaRoche finally rakes for an entire season? What if he finally cuts down on the strikeouts? As somebody who has extensively watched him play this season, I have realized that there will always be recognizable potential in a player who gets his hacks in. That is why there always seems to be a surprising amount of fantasy owners, who target LaRoche as an ideal, late-round sleeper. This year, I was one of them.
What if you didn’t land one of the premier first baseman that you had deliberately sculpted your draft around? Rather than sacrificing the rest of your draft strategy for a player at a deep position, it may make more sense to pursue a first basemen like a LaRoche, or a Russell Branyan, or a Lyle Overbay – or a Phil Nevin if you’re feeling particularly nostalgic- with a late round pick. Much like his fellow mashers, LaRoche has been an advocate of the “swing-as -hard-as-I-can-and-see-what-happens” hitting philosophy, since his days with the Braves. He is a hacker, and his success on any given day depends on his patience at the plate and his overall comfort level on the field. If we take a look at LaRoche’s monthly splits for the 2010 season, and compare them with the monthly splits for his career, there are certain trends that may help fantasy owners predict when LaRoche might get hot.
Due to the fact that LaRoche is perennially slow out of the gate, I was pleasantly surprised when my UTIL hitter posted a .954 OPS with 16 R, 4 HR, 17 RBI, and a 19/11 K/BB ratio in April. I’ll admit it: I temporarily got my hopes up, foolishly thinking that I might be the beneficiary of LaRoche’s career season. This is exactly how one falls victim to the LaRoche Paradox- once you have had a taste of a surging Adam LaRoche, you feel compelled to start him every day, hoping that he will have one of his famous multi-home run, 5 RBI games.
To avoid this trap, it is essential to remember that LaRoche’s monthly totals are ultimately defined by both the intensity and duration of his hot and cold streaks. For instance, from April 26-29, LaRoche hit .462(6/13) with 5 R, 2 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, and 2/3 K/BB. Does his production in those 3 games outweigh all of the 0-fers and 1-hit games that he turned in that month?
Similarly, it is also vital to focus on a hitters BAbip(batting average on balls in play), especially when trying to put a player’s early season success in perspective. In the season’s opening month, LaRoche produced a mediocre .354 BAbip. I use the term mediocre here because with so many uncontrollable variables within the first month of a baseball season – pitcher’s durability, weather, and injuries, to name a few- every hitter’s BAbip will be skewed to an extent.
As his high, BAbip in April foreshadowed, LaRoche’s production trailed off in May, and he finished with a .788 OPS, 16 R, 3 HR, 16 RBI, and 30/13 K/BB. As always, he managed to sneak in a hot streak- just as his fantasy owners had sworn off playing him- that ultimately accounted for a healthy portion of his monthly totals. Over the course of May 15 – May 22, LaRoche hit .464(13/28) with 10 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI and 3K/3BB. Considering that he struck out 30 total times in the month of May, and that we know he only struck out 3 times during his hot streak, I believe it’s safe to say that LaRoche did a lot of swinging and missing during the rest of the month. His torrid stretch during the third week of May produced a misleading .333 BAbip for the entire month. The fact that he had a .500+ BAbip during his May hot streak, yet had just a .333 BAbip for the entire month, speaks volumes about his ever-fluctuating discipline and patience at the plate.
LaRoche’s significant regression in both June and July made them make or break months for his fantasy owners. Although his home runs and RBI in June were on par with his typical monthly totals, LaRoche’s overall production regressed to the tune of .698 OPS, 9 R, 5 HR, 20 RBI, with a 30/9 K/BB ratio and a .266 BAbip. To ensure that his fantasy owners remained indecisive and generally frustrated, LaRoche put together two different hot streaks within June: one vs. the Cardinals and one vs. the Yankees. In the June 11-13 series vs. the Cardinals, LaRoche hit .456(6/13) with 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, and a 4/1 K/BB. Then, in the June 21-23 series vs. Yankees, LaRoche hit .2xx(3/11) with 2 R, HR, 8 RBI and a 2/2 K/BB ratio.
In July, LaRoche’s regression continued, as he posted his worst statistics for any month in the 2010 season: .670 OPS, 9 R, 2 HR, 11 RBI, a 25/4 K/BB ratio, and a .328 BAbip. It was a hectic month for both LaRoche and the entire Diamondbacks organization, as it was littered with internal changes, blockbuster trades, and even more trade rumors. One could argue that due to the internal unrest and speculation within organization, LaRoche was unable to establish any rhythm at the plate, let alone put together a hot streak.
Even though his numbers were far lower than anybody would have liked, LaRoche’s July really shouldn’t have been all that disconcerting. Considering that he is a player whose success is defined by streaks, and that he has a propensity to have a monstrous second half, fantasy owners should have simply stashed him on their bench. Despite it seeming far more logical to either trade or drop LaRoche, his late season production has the potential to propel any fantasy team up in their league’s standings.
As I alluded to earlier, LaRoche was put on this planet to play baseball in August. With a career line of .947 OPS, 80 R, 30 2B, 31 HR, 94 RBI in the month, August always provides the potential for LaRoche to redeem himself in the eyes of his fantasy owners; it’s like he knows that he has some making up to do. In addition to his superb power numbers, LaRoche has a career .353 BAbip in August, a mark that can be directly attributed to his 119/59 K/BB ratio- which seems other-worldly compared to the previously mentioned 25/4 ratio that he posted last month.
This August has been no different. Since flipping the calendar, LaRoche has gone 13-27(.481) with 7 R, 2 2B, 3B, 4 HR and 8 RBI and a .565 BAbip- good for a 1.556 OPS. In 6 games this month, he has nearly matched his power totals from the previous month, and is on pace for the most productive month of his 2010 season. Even though there is a chance that LaRoche may be traded to a contender before the end of the month, I would not expect it to negatively influence his production for the rest of the year, and suggest keeping him in your fantasy lineup. If you would rather not risk a LaRoche cold spell, now would be an ideal time to trade him while his fantasy value is arguably as high as it’s been all year. If you prefer to hang on to him and play the match ups, here is a preview of the Diamondbacks’ schedule for the remainder of August:
August 6-8 vs. Padres
August 9-12 @ Brewers
August 13-15 @ Nationals
August 17-19 vs. Reds
August 20-22 vs. Rockies
August 24-26 @ Padres
August 27-29 @ Giants
August 30-31 vs. Padres