Struggling First Baseman Adam LaRoche Hits The DL, Adam Dunn Isn’t Fairing Much Better

The Washington Nationals have placed first baseman Adam LaRoche on the disabled list after a miserable start to the season. In 43 games he has hit just .172/.288/.258 with three home runs and 15 RBI.

LaRoche has had reoccurring issues with his left shoulder, but until now insisted that it wouldn’t affect his hitting. The Nationals have waited for their first base acquisition to improve at the plate, but after a quarter of the season has passed, he still hasn’t come close to matching the line of .261/.320/.468 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI he produce last year.

“Adam is basically saying, ‘It doesn’t hurt, but I can’t believe I’m missing these pitches, so maybe it’s something there not allowing me to get to the ball,’ ” Nats manager Jim Riggleman told reporters. “You’ve got to explore that, to see if no throwing activities, no lifting, no swinging will let it calm down to the point that maybe then it can go back up. It’s just unfortunate that he’s got to go through this, but this is the step we’re taking now.”

The Nats brought in LaRoche in favor of re-signing former starting first baseman Adam Dunn, who left for what he had hoped would be greener pastures in Chicago. Dunn signed a four-year deal worth $56 million with the White Sox, a contract the Nationals weren’t willing to come close to matching.

The deal so far though has been a push. While LaRoche has been one of the worst everyday players in the baseball offensively, he has been tremendous with the glove, instantly helping the Nats improve their infield defense. To help matters, Dunn has been nearly as bad as LaRoche at the plate, as he is off to the worst start of his career. Through 40 games Dunn is batting just .194/.322/.347 with four home runs and is a whopping 0-30 this season against left-handers.

While it’s almost impossible to say the Nationals are better off for signing a first baseman who has failed to come close to hitting .200, and is now hurt, somehow it’s true. Had the Nationals given Dunn the contract they wanted their offensive production thus far would be nearly as bad as it is with LaRoche, but they would be paying him $40 million more over two more seasons.

Nats fans can say what they want about the club overpaying for a guy like LaRoche who is no better than league average, but I say that when you consider the alternative of bringing back Dunn, which is what many had wanted, the club side-stepped a landmine.

I think it’s likely that once LaRoche gets his shoulder rested he’ll be able to come back to 100%. While his bat was never even half of Adam Dunn’s, It seems like he can be an above average hitter and provide a top glove for hopefully the second half of 2011 and all of 2012.