New White Sox signee Adam LaRoche is nothing if not consistent.
He is about the same player today as he was a decade ago; LaRoche hits 20-25 homers and knocks in 80-100 runs. He’s hit 20 or more homers and driven in 78 or more runs in eight of his 11 seasons.
The only exceptions were his rookie year, an injury-stricken 2011 in which he played just 43 games, and 2013, when he hit 20 homers and drove in just 62 runs.
Will things be any different now that LaRoche is 35 years old and will play his first full season in the American League?
The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes,’ writes ESPN columnist Tony Blengino, who was formerly a special assistant to the GM in Seattle and a scouting director in Milwaukee.
It’s an understatement to call U.S. Cellular Field a hitter’s park. According to Blengino’s data, The Cell inflates run scoring by 23.4 percent, which is second only to Coors Field.
Blengino believes LaRoche will surge at this late stage of his career, not unlike Paul Konerko, who was an All-Star at ages 34, 35 and 36.
LaRoche’s actual 2014 fly ball production ranked 47th among the 130 NL players who put 215 or more balls in play. His batted-ball authority, however, was much more significant than that. Based on examination of his hard and soft fly ball rates, LaRoche was the NL’s third most authoritative fly ball hitter in 2014, behind only Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt. Based on this fact, one might even consider the above neutral field/U.S. Cellular adjustments to be conservative. Simply adjusting his fly ball production in the above manner makes him an overall .275/.378/.536 hitter as a member of the White Sox.
LaRoche does not come without risk. Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the new relative risk of Mike Trout. LaRoche, like Trout, hit more fly balls (excluding popups) than grounders in 2014, often a leading indicator of impending decline. He will also play the 2015 season at age 35, not exactly a popular time for a late-career breakthrough, and possesses a fairly significant pull tendency. Unlike Trout, however, LaRoche had low K and popup rates for a power hitter in 2014, mitigating some of the risk.
If he stays healthy, he’ll not only exceed 30 home runs, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that he’ll out-homer 2014 AL homer king Nelson Cruz and maybe even battle teammate Jose Abreu for the 2015 crown.
LaRoche looks like a potentially shrewd investment for the White Sox, and if what Blengino sees comes anywhere close to fruition, LaRoche’s left-handed bat will pay huge dividends.
“White Sox, Adam LaRoche, two years, $25 million, great value,’ Blengino writes. “Those words, at this moment in time, comfortably belong in the same sentence.”