Pass LaRoche to the Nationals

The Nationals found their Adam Dunn replacement today, reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with journeyman Adam LaRoche. Only 31, this will be his fifth team – so another new team for LaRoche and another Adam at first will make this transition seamless for both sides, right?

Er, not quite. Dunn had a lifetime ISO of .271 and a 16.3% career walk rate while LaRoche comes in at .216 and 9.2% in those two categories. That’s a lot of lost offense. It can be as obvious as looking at Dunn’s constant home run totals around 40, while LaRoche’s hover around 25. Old-school stats actually work in this case.

LaRoche has been passed around so often because, well, he’s so average. Since 2008, qualified first basemen have averaged a .219 ISO – LaRoche had a .216 ISO over that same time period. The same group of first basemen had a collective 21% strikeout rate. LaRoche has a 25% career strikeout rate. They walked 11.5% of the time, LaRoche 9.5% of the time. They averaged 25.9 home runs per season, LaRoche has hit exactly 25 in each of the last three seasons. LaRoche has had a 116 wRC+ over the last three years, which looks okay until you see that the average first baseman has had a 130 wRC+. In fact, since each part of the package is so close to average or just below, he hasn’t even been an average first baseman.

At 31, this isn’t likely to change, especially given LaRoche’s move from Arizona to Washington. Washington’s park has a 94 park factor for home runs by lefties, and a 108 factor for doubles. That seems fine, except that LaRoche played in a park that showed a 114 home run park factor and a 115 doubles factor for lefties last year… and showed the third-worst ISO of his career along with the second-worst batting average. The boost barely showed.

Doesn’t matter, we can pencil him in for a .270ish batting average and 25 home runs, right? After all, that describes most of his seasons despite the different home ballparks. Well, maybe, but the Nationals’ park will have the worst park factor for lefty home runs of all the parks he called home. 20 home runs is just as much a possibility as 25. If he pairs last seasons’ career-worst strikeout rate (30.7%) with a BABIP more in line with his career number (.330 last year, .315 career), he may have another year with a .260 batting average – or worse.

Now you’re looking at a possible .260/20 HR guy. In a recent set of projections, I had LaRoche around 30th, but that was before he signed with a team that could afford him regular at-bats, so the projection only had 416 at-bats. With 500+ at-bats, he could ‘zoom’ up the charts… to about 27th or so. Would you rather have LaRoche, or take a chance on someone like Brandon Allen or Matt LaPorta? Or, if you like veterans, LaRoche or Garret Jones or Luke Scott?

Looks like LaRoche is almost toast, in fantasy terms.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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And look at LaRoche’s career splits @ Nationals Park:

14 G (51 AB): .314/.397/.608, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 6 2B, 9 runs scored, 7 BB, 15 K

Small sample, yes, but I’ll take it if we’re going to play the stats game. He fills a need to make them more competitive; that’s the bottom line. Now if only they could acquire a starting pitcher!


Only problem with that is how bad a lot of the Nats pitchers have been during the time period Nats Park has been open.