Wasting Away: Adam LaRoche’s Slimming Offense

The 2013 season has been a lost one for the most part for Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche. Lost, not only from a production perspective, but also when it comes to his weight, as it was brought to light that his medication regimen for his attention deficit disorder has caused a tremendous amount of weight loss in the last month or so, causing him to cut back on his pregame activities in order to save energy.

With the alterations in medication and batting practice routine seems to have come a bit of a power outage for LaRoche — since August 1, ALR has hit four home runs in 130 plate appearances and in general, has produced scant power. In spite of the drop in homer production, LaRoche still appears to be relatively productive — does the sudden weight drop drastically affect LaRoche’s numbers this year, or compared to his previous years averages?

With an assist from Fangraphs, we can find that out. First, two tables. The first looks at ALR’s numbers in August in three different ways — across his career, his career best 2012 season, and this season — the second is the same thing, just for September and October. I picked these due to them roughly paralleling the length of time LaRoche has felt that he was losing weight and possibly energy due to his meds.

Is 2013 such a huge anomaly for LaRoche?
 

Season Split BB% K% LD% AVG OPS ISO BABIP wRC+
2012 Aug 8.7 % 14.3 % 18.8 % 0.239 0.691 0.150 0.247 87
2013 Aug 12.5 % 20.2 % 27.5 % 0.233 0.737 0.167 0.262 96
Career Aug 9.9 % 21.1 % 19.1 % 0.294 0.891 0.232 0.332 132

 

Season Split BB% K% LD% AVG OPS ISO BABIP wRC+
2012 Sept/Oct 9.8 % 18.7 % 22.7 % 0.324 1.057 0.342 0.333 182
2013 Sept/Oct 23.1 % 15.4 % 25.0 % 0.316 0.883 0.105 0.375 153
Career Sept/Oct 8.4 % 24.3 % 23.2 % 0.293 0.888 0.243 0.350 128

 
By the looks of it, not really — in fact, ALR appears to be righting the ship, if the handful of Sept/Oct at bats for 2013 are anything to hang your hat on. While the sample size is limited, his 2013 walk rate (BB%), strikeout rate (K%), and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) betters his career and 2012 averages, to name a few. Looking back at the August numbers, while he did definitely a drop in numbers due to the weight loss, it wasn’t anything precipitous.

Looking at the raw data, it nothing really jumps out at you — yes, LaRoche is having a rough stretch, but nothing that hasn’t been seen previously in career. Let’s now look at his productivity with some help from PITCHf/x and Brooks Baseball.

With this first graph, we look at ALR’s plate approach across his career in the hopes of answering whether his recent weight woes has made him change his approach at the plate:
 

 
In general, 2013 has seen LaRoche be a little more even keeled with his approach, but as of late, has shown some passiveness, especially with breaking and offspeed pitches. Is this in response to some sort of innate admission that he doesn’t have the energy/power to get to a particular pitch or a part of the strikezone to drive the ball? Or, perhaps it’s a reflection of pitchers pitching him differently, trying to take advantage of a weakness in his approach or swing.

The next two charts can help answer some of this. The first is a look at the percentages of pitches ALR has seen over his ‘career’ by month. I write ‘career’ simply because it only includes seasons where PITCHf/x data were available. With that disclosed, how are pitchers working LaRoche?
 

 
There aren’t too many huge trends popping up across LaRoche’s career. However for this season, we do see a good jump in the number of hard pitches — fastballs (twoseam, fourseam, and cut) and sinkers — along with a concomitant drop in breaking pitches in August and September versus earlier months.

How has LaRoche responded? This next chart shows if he is missing pitches via whiff rate:
 

 
While he seems to be handling hard stuff just fine and making good contact (low whiff rate), LaRoche does seem to be swinging and missing quite a bit as of late on the increased number of offspeed pitches sees. With the weight loss, he also seems to be whiffing a little more as of late on breaking pitches, but overall, does seem to be doing a decent job of handling the offspeed pitch in 2013. In general, LaRoche does appear to do a better job of connecting with pitches of any type as he ages.

OK, so he’s getting his cuts and save for some rough going with offspeed offerings, is putting the ball in play. Where’s the ball going, now that he’s had to ration his energy and swings?

First, I provide ALR’s spray chart for 2013 up until roughly when he noticed the weight loss — right around August 5th:
 

 
…and here’s what he’s done since then, a waist size or two smaller:
 

 
It appears he isn’t hitting the ball quite as far as of late, and seems to not be going the other way quite as frequently as he was before the weight loss. Also, it doesn’t appear that he is putting a good swing on breaking pitches in recent weeks and isn’t driving the ball as far as he once was.

Two more hitting charts. These look at ALR’s isolated power, pre- and post- weight loss, as it relates to his zone profile:
 

 

 
Here, we see that LaRoche’s ‘sweet spot’ for generating runs has shrunk as he has — in the last few weeks, if it isn’t in the traditional left-handed hitter’s hit zone of down and in or right down the middle of the plate, he isn’t able to drive the ball and generate some of the much-needed runs that the Nats offense in general has been lacking all season long.

While LaRoche does seem to be pulling out of his slump, what we see is that, while concerning due to where the power outage arose from, a late season drop in productivity isn’t anything new to ALR historically. Beyond that, we see that LaRoche has struggled to maintain his typical power numbers in spite of doing an admirable job of maintaining his approach and not becoming overly aggressive with his swing. Despite the lack of power, LaRoche is still making good, albeit weaker, contact.

With a medication change or tapering of his current dosage, LaRoche should be able to finish the season strong and hopefully give the Nats offense the lift it needs as it continues to knock on the door of a playoff berth.
 
 

 

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