Stashed away in the loathsome wilderness of the National League for all of his 11 years in the majors, Adam LaRoche has been more or less interchangeable in my consciousness with Nate McLouth, Nuke LaLoosh, Chesty LaRue, The Mighty Boosh, and Lyle Overbay. And yet, he's been plugging away as the typical adequate hitting first baseman we theorize about but never pay to watch. He owns a career .263/.340/.472, 113 wRC+ batting line that he's jumped back and forth across like a metronome.
The Sox are signing up hoping for 2012 and 2014, when LaRoche was 27% better than league average each time, rather than a disappointing 2013 where he scrapped for league-average production and struggled with Gordon Beckham-like mid-season weight and power loss.
But the two most recent LaRoche success stories are fairly disparate. In 2012, as a 32-year-old, he uncorked his best power season, hitting a career-high 33 home runs with a career-high ISO rating. Last year, the power was fine, but LaRoche set a career-high in walks and OBP, swung less than ever, and struck out barely more than he took a free pass (14 BB% vs. 18.4 K%).
It's not an approach revelation that's responsible. The previously linked-to Adam Kilgore profile finds LaRoche as a gruff see-ball, hit-ball type who feigns ignorance of OBP as a concept and has only begrudgingly accepted walks as a non-negative, though undeniably unfulfilling result.
LaRoche credited his success to a reduction of his opening stride in his swing resulting in a corresponding reduction in movement in his head as the ball comes through the zone. Previously, moving his head jangled his view of the ball as it passed through the strike zone, and shortening his stride gives him a better, more consistent view of the ball. LaRoche was commenting on the change mid-season, but it held true enough to give him a resurgent year at an age where his power can expected to be steadily on the downslide. We're in a better place hoping LaRoche can continue to see the ball well and get on base than hoping he can repeat sudden career peaks in power production.
As someone who started baseball blogging in their stupid, stupid 20's, I have already written countless articles about "adjustments" and how they should fundamentally change our conception of a player, only to see a several weeks-long, or even multi-month trend wither into nothing substantial. Adam Dunn was regularly reinventing the wheel after the 2011 season, but all his tweaks were temporary footholds in an otherwise steady roll down the face of a cliff.
Invoking the most terrifying name in the history of free agent left-handed DH solutions is not intentional, but the Sox are again taking another whirl that a historically productive hitter can cling to just enough to get through a few seasons before it all completely erodes away. For LaRoche, the hope is that a newfound ability to glue himself to first base will cancel out all the warning lights that will start flickering elsewhere. It's something to go on, which is better than most have.
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