06 May 2007

Now Being Squizzed At: Andy LaRoche

Let's hope it's a good long look at him, too, even if he struggles at first. At least two months, and probably the whole year unless he really really struggles. I won't mind if Betemit still gets a few starts during the next month or so as well, as I've said before. This is the real third base competition, unlike the bogus Martinez v Valdez v Betemit we threatened to have going for awhile.

Here are LaRoche's minor league stats.

Age -- level -- games -- AVG -- OBP -- SLG

20 -- Rk -- 6 -- 0.211 -- 0.238 -- 0.263
21 -- A -- 65 -- 0.283 -- 0.375 -- 0.525
21 -- A+ -- 62 -- 0.237 -- 0.295 -- 0.434
22 -- A+ -- 63 -- 0.333 -- 0.380 -- 0.651
22 -- AA -- 64 -- 0.273 -- 0.367 -- 0.445
23 -- AA -- 62 -- 0.309 -- 0.419 -- 0.483
23 -- AAA -- 55 -- 0.322 -- 0.400 -- 0.550

24 -- AAA -- 24 -- 0.235 -- 0.309 -- 0.367

The pattern until he hit AAA was that he would be promoted mid-year, struggle a bit at the new level, then stay at that level next year and really mash the ball then. That pattern was oddly reversed for AAA, because he had a great OPS of 0.950 last year and he's been struggling with an OPS of 0.676 this year in hitter friendly Vegas. I guess the standard psychological answer for his struggles this year is that he was disappointed he was still at AAA; this same explanation would also work for James Loney, struggling with a 0.687 OPS in Vegas. I don't really accept that explanation, though. These guys are still trying, right? I think it's important to note that LaRoche's stats this year are in only 24 games. It's a rather small sample size.

What about Loney, though? Doesn't he deserve to be called up more than LaRoche, based on what he did at AAA and the major leauges last year? Probably, but I think it's also clear that LaRoche's time is now. He'll be 24 in August, while Loney is only 22; actually he turns 23 tomorrow. ( Happy Birthday, James! ) LaRoche's time in the minor league oven is done. It's time to see what he can do at the big league level.

I'm hoping LaRoche can have at least a 0.350 OBP. The Dodgers need to get that sort of OBP at least out of every position if they're going to cobble together a league average offense without many home runs. Right now the OBP of catcher, left field, second base, and first base are all fine, though Nomar needs to watch it with his latest slump. The OBP of right field appears to be moving in the right direction, with Kemp maybe getting a deserved call-up if Ethier falters. We just have to hope Furcal repeats his pattern of last year: I think he will, and long term shortstop should be fine. That leaves third base, where we may be seeing the beginning of a solution today, and center field, where there doesn't appear to be a solution beyond the unlikely benching of Pierre or Pierre getting really lucky with his batting average.

Some are noting the dearth of lefties on the bench, especially now that Marlon Anderson is being stashed on the DL to make way for Andy LaRoche. I don't think this matters too much. How big of a problem can it be if we almost never saw Anderson play anyway? He had a 16 plate appearances as a pinch hitter, with 4 hits and 1 walk. I guess ideally we would have more than Betemit as a lefty option off the bench; but I think this has to fall very low on the Dodger list of problems. I have a solution: let's promote Kemp to starting center fielder and use Pierre as our primary lefty off the bench!

Not going to happen, of course. Sigh. Well, at least LaRoche is getting his shot. Let's hope it's a long and fair one.


Charlie said...

Regarding LaRoche (and Loney) possibly regressing at AAA due to disappointment over *being* in AAA, I have to say I've become more of a subscriber to this theory, for a couple of reasons.

First, it seems consistent with human nature. I think even highly motivated, disciplined people can slack off if they feel like their efforts aren't being appreciated or rewarded. Ballplayers (not all of whom are highly motivted or disciplined anyway) are probably no exception.

Second, Hanley Ramirez and BJ Upton. Ramirez was doing nothing in AA, and then became an MVP candidate when he hit the Show. BJ Upton had been going backward for two years in AAA, and is now raking in the majors.

Maybe minor league ballplayers are kind of like school children--take them through new material too fast, and they'll get overwhelmed and stop learning. Go too slow and a lot of them will get bored and stop paying attention. You have to move each player at just the right pace.

I admit this is not a very scientific argument, but I have started to give more credence to the 'he's bored in the minors' line of thinking. Hopefully, LaRoche will get a boost from the promotion.

Griffster said...

Baseball sometimes seems to be a discipline ( not a sport, in the way that some followers view it, but a discipline! ) whereby everything is defined by the numbers, and a player's individual makeup does not matter at all, except in how it gets absorbed by his numbers. The numbers guys say that any personality traits are present in the numbers already and should not be counted again when the player's worth is measured. For instance, somebody who "works hard" already has his working hard factored into his stats, and he's not any better than somebody with the same stats just because he "works hard".

There is nothing wrong with that approach, really - in fact, it is a valuable thing to keep in mind.

That said, I tend to agree with you on the fact that these players are individuals, at the end of the day, and that they and their organizations would benefit most by having that individuality recognized, even if it flies in the face of how things have "always been done", for instance. Just from personal experience, I know that this is true for me, and will be true in anything I do. I do not think baseball is any different than anything else people do, therefore I would say that this line of thinking should hold true for baseball, too. No matter how much numbers are woven into this fascinating game, in the end it is played by people, not by stats sheets.

So yes, a gifted player may well start to languish in the minors after he's come up to AAA and set it on fire. What more is left for him to do? He needs another challenge, a new level to test himself at and lift himself to - and that is the big league.

There's a caveat attached to this - what if this player is exceptional, or even just solidly above average? In such a case, the player will conquer the big league like he conquered AAA. And now, what is left for him now? There is no higher level to go to. I think that in this case, you may find a player a little like Jose Cruz Jr, who has been considered to have potential and yet haven't always lived up to it. The argument could be made that simply playing at the pinnacle of the sport should be motivation enough, but some people do not tick like that - they always need that extra challenge. So I'd say that unless a person can motivate himself from within in some way, to always give his best no matter what he is at and what level he plays at, he may be unpredictable and perhaps just a little disappointing when he hits the bigs.

Here's to hoping that none of our rookies currently playing, or waiting to play, will ever have this problem.