There were some raised eyebrows when the Washington Nationals signed Adam LaRoche to a two year deal with an option on the third. The Nationals were praised for waiting LaRoche out to get the right price, but still, not too many people get all excited when considering LaRoche as a player. After all, his closest comps at his age according to Baseball-reference.com are Geoff Jenkins, Tony Clark and Jason Bay. But as we will see, LaRoche is getting better with age and has become a much more consistent producer in his last two full seasons than when he was younger. So here goes, six reasons why Adam LaRoche was a good signing.
1. The cost. LaRoche will be paid $10 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. If he continues to produce and both sides pick up the options in 2015, the cost goes up to $15. This is a very modest salary considering that his play was worth $17 million in 2012. Granted, it was LaRoche's best season ever, but as we shall see, there are signs that he has found consistent ways to produce. According to Fangraphs' Leaderboard, LaRoche was the fifth best first baseman in baseball in 2012.
2. LaRoche is not a liability against left-handed pitching. It is granted that his lifetime split against left-handed and right-handed pitchers has a pretty big swing. His career OPS is 93 points higher against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers. But in his last two full seasons (he missed most of 2011), those splits are not nearly as nasty. While his split was 44 points different in OPS in 2010, his batting average and slugging percentage were right in the same ballpark. The entire difference was basically in his on-base percentage as LaRoche only walked eight times against lefties that season (which is pretty incredible). In 2012, LaRoche put together an .825 OPS against lefties. That was still 39 points different and again the difference was in the OBP.
3. Adam LaRoche has shown consistency in his last two full seasons. In 2012, his OPS was .836 in the first half and .869 in the second. His OPS was .871 at home and .836 on the road. In 2010, his OPS was .787 in the first half and .788 in the second half. His OPS was .803 at home and .773 on the road.
4. LaRoche has improved his play at first base. Adam LaRoche's defense was not always a good part of his game. And again, while he is not the best, his fielding was rated as fifth best for his position by Fangraphs which has given him him high marks in all three of his past seasons. Baseball.reference.com does not rate his fielding as highly. That site has always rated LaRoche in negative territory. But at least that site rated him as league average in 2012, their best rating for him in his career.
5. LaRoche can hit all types of pitches. He was equally adept at hitting finesse pitchers (.826 OPS), average pitchers (.818) and power pitchers (.935), fly ball pitchers (1.050) and ground ball pitchers (.844). He is much better at hitting the slider and curve than he was earlier in his career and even rated 1.5 runs above average against the knuckleball. It looks like he might be one of the few players in the National League to miss Dickey.
6. And finally, as the figures in Number 5 show, LaRoche hits a good amount of fly balls. And since 17% of those go over the fence, that is a good thing for him. LaRoche's ground ball percentage of 33.6% was the sixth lowest in baseball in 2012. That means that everything else was either a line drive (22.3%) or a fly ball (44.1%). Once again, major league batters do their most damage on line drives and 22.3% is a very good rate and as mentioned, when you have a double-digit chance of hitting a fly ball over the wall, those fly balls are a good thing too.
Adam LaRoche hit 33 homers in 2012, which was tied with Cano for tenth best in the league. Since power has become a new premium now in the pendulum swing that is baseball, having a guy like LaRoche is a good thing. LaRoche also added 35 doubles. While it isn't really smart to predict LaRoche will improve over his 2012 season, he doesn't have to. All he has to do is put up two more similar seasons (even a little less maybe) to make his contract worth what the Nationals are paying. With his fielding and consistency, the Nationals made their bets on LaRoche over Mike Morse and that seems to be the right call here.