Adam LaRoche Controls the Zone

On a weird level, there are certain baseball players I consider “my guys.” No real rhyme or reason to it. Of course the most known and poked at guy of mine is easily Andrew Cashner, but I also love Neil Walker, Xavier Avery (don’t ask) and of course Adam LaRoche.

This year we saw LaRoche rate as the 11th best fantasy first baseman as per Zach Sanders’ rankings. LaRoche didn’t set a career high in any of the standard 5×5 categories, however he tied the highest single season wRC+ of his career. He also posted the best walk rate, strikeout rate and on-base percentage of any qualified season.

The 34-year-old LaRoche appeared in 140 games and amassed 586 plate appearances, posting a quality .259/.362/.455 line. While the batting average is nothing to write home about, his OBP was seventh best among qualified first basemen. As is often the case with BB% and K%, the swing peripherals are the driving factor for LaRoche’s improved on-base prowess.

Swing% Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2014 40.7% 80.6% 89.2% 7.7%
Career 44.1% 77.8% 86.9% 9.6%

LaRoche improved across the board in terms of in zone contact, overall contact, fewer swings in general and most importantly fewer swings and misses. A fair argument can be made that fewer swings isn’t necessarily an improvement and it is a good point. That being said, LaRoche being more finicky at the plate forces pitchers to try and throw him more pitches in the zone before they surrender a walk. With his power, nine of his previous 10 seasons have seen LaRoche clear 20+ home runs, he can punish said strikes.Pitchers and pitching coaches have to be acutely aware of LaRoche’s ability to drive the ball so they’ll try to stay away from the heart of the zone. When attempting to skirt the edges of the strike zone, calls don’t always go the pitchers way.

This season we saw a first strike% of 54.1% for LaRoche — the fifth lowest mark in baseball — versus a 57.2% career average. For further comparison, this year the league average F-Strike% (excluding pitchers) was 60.3%. LaRoche’s patience, not something new, but never seen at this level, is paying off serious dividends. Getting ahead 1-0 at a clip 6% better than league average is a great place for a hitter to find themselves in. For his career, LaRoche hit for a 140 wRC+ when ahead 1-0 against a 77 wRC+ when in an 0-1 count. This season he hit for a 156 and 102 wRC+ in 1-0 and 0-1 counts respectively. Even when behind, his patience is allowing to hit for a league average mark when down early in the count.

With no real change in his batted ball rates, his 2014 GB%, FB%, IFFB%,  and HR/FB% are all within 1.5% of his career average, LaRoche is fighting off father time quite well. As he ages, his “old man” skills of power and patience is either remaining where it was or even improving in terms of his walk rate.

You can catch David spouting off about baseball, soccer, esports and other things by following him on twitter, @davidwiers.

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