Nationals and Adam LaRoche “progressing” towards a deal – Should the Nats be careful?

imagesAccording to Bill Ladson of, the Washington Nationals are “progressing” in talks with free-agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. The club is looking to add the left-hander to replace former all-star slugger Adam Dunn, who the club lost in free-agency to the Chicago White Sox this winter. It appears there is confidence growing on both sides that a deal will be made as LaRoche is the last available everyday first baseman on the market and Washington is the last club that has a critical vacancy at the position.

LaRoche, 31, finished last season batting .a respectable 261/.320/.468 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI, a strong representation of his overall career production. In seven MLB seasons he has averaged .271/.339/.488 with 26 homers and 93 RBI, meaning that if the two sides work out a deal he could likely bring a consistency much needed by the Nationals at a position that currently could be described as in chaos.

He is a left-handed power-threat, another asset that Washington desperately needs, and while he is not the player Adam Dunn is he comes at a cheaper price. It would seem then that LaRoche would be a no brainer for this position, right? 

Not so fast. While Washington is pretty much helpless at the first base position, LaRoche doesn’t come without his own detractions. Despite putting up a career high in RBI, and tying his second best career mark in home runs and runs, LaRoche had many set backs in his secondary statistics that may indicate he is preparing for an overall decline in production. In 2010 these numbers were:

7.8 BB% – The lowest walk percentage he has posted since his rookie season in 2004. This played a large role in his OBP dropping from .355 in 2009 to a lousy .320 in 2010.

30.7 K% – The highest strikeout percentage of his career by far.

28.1 O-Swing% – LaRoche swung at 28.1% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2010, by far the highest of his career.

44.8 Zone % – At 44.8%, LaRoche connected with a career low percentage of pitches he made contact with inside the zone. 

To summarize, LaRoche’s plate patience declined in 2010. While walk percentage and K percentage can fluctuate, it isn’t common to see a player become less patient as they get older, that is unless their skills are beginning to diminish. Often times when a player begins chasing more pitches, and working the count less often, it is a sign that they are relying on finding their pitch early in the count rather than having the confidence in their abilities to work the count. 

Does this mean the Nationals shouldn’t sign LaRoche? Of course not, he is their last remaining option at first base and if he produces at last years ability he will be the teams third best hitter right away. Nevertheless, it is important to keep an eye on these numbers to see if LaRoche’s 2010 plate patience was an indicator of decline, or just a poor year.