Filtering by Tag: Adam LaRoche

On Ryan Zimmerman and Third Base

Michael Young switched positions three times; Chipper Jones moved to left field in 2002 and back to third in 2004; Albert Pujols did not have a set position until 2004; Miguel Cabrera just switched positions for the fourth time in his career. There is a long list of very accomplished players who have moved because their team or career depended on it. Ryan Zimmerman will soon join that list, and will be better for it. Zimmerman committed his first error of the season (a routine throw to first base in the third inning) during the first game of the season in New York. While it was disconcerting as Zimmerman struggled with his throwing in 2013, it did not sound any alarms.

Those alarms went off full-blast when Zimmerman was removed from last Saturday’s game versus the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inning when he complained of shoulder pain after committing another throwing error that allowed Andrelton Simmons to reach base on what should have been a routine out. While the fallout from Zimmerman’s absence (he only has one at-bat since Saturday) has been relatively subdued, it is no less alarming and changes how Zimmerman and the Nationals should plan for his future.

Zimmerman is in the first year of his six-year extension and remains one of the franchise’s centerpiece players, so any notion that he can, or will, be traded are misconceived. Players like Zimmerman are awarded long-term extensions because their general manager and ownership agree to support them when they suffer lumps in their career such as the one he is currently dealing with; he has reached a point at his career where the Nationals will accommodate his interests with equal consequence as the rest of the organization.

That does not change that the Nationals have a serious dilemma for the remainder of the season. Plans to eventually move Zimmerman to first base were actualized last offseason when manager Matt Williams told Zimmerman to purchase a first base glove and to anticipate playing roughly 15 games at the position this year. But incumbent first baseman Adam Laroche’s hot start this season has quieted those plans. A free agent next year, the likelihood of Laroche’s return is all-but-nonexistent now that Zimmerman’s condition is known, but the possibility for a big year has not stopped the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell from writing that the Nationals should still consider trading him midseason to move Zimmerman across the diamond.

This all assumes Zimmerman can no longer play third base. Revising his announcement Monday that Zimmerman has arthritis, Williams said that he has a degenerative shoulder condition. Zimmerman is not going on the disabled list, and will rejoin the lineup Wednesday night. Because it is his right shoulder, he should still be able to hit, and has not demonstrated any difficulty doing so early in the season. The problem is his defense, which has ranged from sneaky-bad to abhorrent. Even when Zimmerman cut down on the throwing errors in the second half of 2013, his mechanics remained heavily flawed and his arm strength missing, problems that have resurfaced even though the Nationals claimed he would be able to rebuild his throwing strength after a healthy off-season.

Williams announced that Zimmerman is working on yet another change to his mechanics, but even if it restores his arm-strength, there is little doubt he will be playing first base by 2015. Similar to Boston’s Mike Napoli, who has a degenerative hip condition, the Nationals will need to build a regimen around preserving Zimmerman’s shoulder as long as possible. That means no unnecessary wear and tear: less batting practice, fewer pre-game grounders, and eventually, not throwing across the diamond. A degenerative shoulder is different from a structural injury like Danny Espinosa’s torn rotator cuff, which healed itself with time. Years of playing third base have taken its toll on Zimmerman’s body; it will be relevant for the rest of his career and will likely affect his quality of life after his playing days are over.

None of this means the Nationals are in imminent danger. Zimmerman has still been able to hit for power despite his shoulder problems. Napoli, who was diagnosed before the 2013 season, had one of the best years of his career and received a three-year extension from the Red Sox headed into his age-32 season.

Criticism of the plan to move Zimmerman to first base stems from the notion that he is less valuable at a position with more depth around the league. However, Zimmerman’s offensive numbers would still have been top-10 at first base in 2013, and it stands to reason his offense would improve from playing the less strenuous position. That criticism also unfairly assumes Zimmerman would be a liability at first base. Zimmerman is as athletic as anyone who has covered first for Washington in its 10-year history, and 97 of his 135 career errors (72 percent) have been throwing errors. Moving him to first means less throwing and fewer assists; reducing the strain on his shoulder and not only improve his defensive numbers (he has committed the third most errors in baseball since 2012) but making him an overall more valuable player.

While Zimmerman is in better position now than he was this time last year, when he committed 10 errors in nine games leading to 11 unearned runs and a 2-7 team record, the baseball gods have told him his days at third are numbered. The Nationals and Laroche have a $15 million mutual option for 2015, his age-35 season. If declined, Zimmerman will earn only $1.6 million more to play first base in his age-30 season. At first base, he will rarely have to throw the ball and the Nationals will likely configure their defense so he does not receive the ball on cut-off plays from the outfield.

While moving to first base likely will eclipse his value as a star player, it is necessary for the team to remain competitive long-term. There is no reason he cannot be a Gold-Glove caliber player at first base, or at least be trusted on defense again; at third, he is a liability and in decline.

Adam LaRoche vs. Not LaRoche

The history of first base for the Washington Nationals is almost as depressing as their history at centerfield and catcher. Nick Johnson stands alone at the top with 11.2 fWAR and then it is Dunn, Morse, and LaRoche in a virtual tie at 3.7-3.9 fWAR. After that things get bleak with names like Dmitri Young, Adam Kennedy, and Daryle Ward, and then comes the collection of below replacement level talent and we aren't going there. The history of first base for the Washington Nationals is bleak, and trading LaRoche could send them right back to those days. The internal solutions either aren't good enough, Tyler Moore, or need more time in the minors, Matt Skole/Steven Souza Jr. There is no one good enough or ready to take LaRoche's spot in the Nationals organization and with Mike Napoli having resigned with the Red Sox there is no one available outside the organization either, but that hasn't stopped people from trying. 

There are several contenders for LaRoche's job on other teams or in the free agent market that people have mentioned as first base options for the Nationals, but none of them represent an actual upgrade. Let's start with the trade options. The name that seems to excite people the most is Mark Trumbo and my best guess on that is it is people that don't know how to look up a players stats and only watch the highlight shows. Mark Trumbo hits long, impressive homeruns and is a fun player to watch in batting practice or a homerun derby. The Nats once had a player like that. His name was Wily Mo Pena. He could hit long homeruns but had no defensive position and couldn't get on base. A lot like Mark Trumbo who has a career batting line of .250/.299/.469. He was a positive fWAR player at 2.5 in 2013 and would be a nice addition for the right price, but the Angels aren't looking for the right price. They are looking for major league ready starting pitching. For the Nationals it would take either Ross Detwiler or Taylor Jordan to get Trumbo and that is simply too much for an MLB average position player. 

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Deleting the Adjectives: Adam LaRoche and the Three True Outcomes

Of Nationals regulars, excluding the mess at second base, could you name the one with the highest strikeout rate? The title may have given it away, but it's Adam  LaRoche at 26.6%. This is up from his 21.3% rate in 2012 and a good bit ahead of second place Ian  Desmond at 23%.   What LaRoche does have going for him is that he is in second place among the same group in walk rate at 11.7%, behind only Bryce  Harper and his 14% walk rate. As well as, second in home runs with 10, again behind Harper who has 12. So why is this important?

Well, for some who enjoy advanced statistics there's a well-known concept called the Three True Outcomes. As you may have guessed the Three True Outcomes are a strikeout, a walk and a home run. This is because these are the only outcomes of an at-bat that are completely within the control of just the pitcher and batter, anything else involves the defense in some way. Baseball Prospectus, who coined the term in an article in 2000 , described the Three True Outcomes as distilling the game of baseball down to its essence.

 

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The Nats Final Off-Season Issue

This is the time of the off-season where teams sign players and make moves few hear about, and if they do they aren't expected to have much of an impact. Now is the time of the January free agent. Sure, there are guys like LaRoche, Lohse, Soriano, and Bourn still on the market, but they are not the typical January free agent. The January free agent is that guy looking for a minor league deal and invite to Spring Training. He is the guy hoping to get one more shot to wear the uniform and play in the big leagues. 

The Nats don't need a lot of these types of players, but they may benefit from a couple. As it stand right now there are two spots up for grabs on the Nats 25 man roster. The rotation, line-up, and bench are set. The only real question is if it will be LaRoche or Morse manning first in 2013, but that has no impact on the two spots the Nats have open. The Nats need a sixth and seventh man in the bullpen. They have a number of internal options and if they decide to forgo the Christian Garcia as a starter experiment then suddenly there is one less spot in the bullpen.

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The Nats and Left Handed Power

A common refrain this off-season, as the LaRoche drama has dragged on is that the Nats need more left-handed power. Last season the Nats two main left-handed batters where Harper and LaRoche. With Harper moving from second to fourth in the line-up as expected, and Span at the top of the line-up the Nats will have the same number of left-handed batters, but they will lack the power that LaRoche brought. As has been pointed out before, Morse is just as effective vs. right handers hitting .292/.343/.487 for his career compared to .274/.348/.495 for LaRoche. With that little of a difference between the two the Nats don't have much need for more left handed power.

A league average left-handed batter hit .260/.332/.416 against right-handed pitching in 2012. Several of the Nats middle of the order bats are better than this. Ryan Zimmerman for his career is hitting .273/.333/.478 against right handers, Jayson Werth .260/.352/.436, and in his breakout season of 2012 Ian Desmond hit .289/.336/.492. All of them hit left handers better, but that isn't the point. The Nats have right-handed batters that can approximate the production of a league average left-hander. 

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The Nationals May Not Want LaRoche Back

As the ongoing LaRoche drama has stretched to infinity and beyond, this isstarting to look like a case of the Nats hoping that there is someone out there who will offer LaRoche a three year deal. That isn't because the Nats wouldn't like to have LaRoche for 2013 or even 2014, but with Morse signed through this coming season, Anthony Rendon working his way through the minors, and Tyler Moore already in the majors the Nats have little to no need of Adam LaRoche. What the Nats do need is minor league talent, and the best way to add minor league talent is through the draft.

If the Nats do re-sign LaRoche they will certainly work to trade Morse, but the level of prospects they receive for him will be nowhere close to the talent Mike Rizzo and the Nats scouting department have acquired in the first round of the draft. Simply look at the Nats last two free agents that garnered compensation picks. With Mike Rizzo as the head of scouting and player development the Nats were able to turn the Alfonso Soriano compensation picks into Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann, and while Smoker didn't amount to much Jordan Zimmermann's ability as the Nats third Ace more than makes up for that.

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Adam LaRoche and Marginalizing Marginal Wins

The one big off-season issue that the Washington Nationals continue to face is what to do with Adam LaRoche. It has been made very clear during the off-season that LaRoche is seeking a three year deal while the Nationals are unwilling to give it, and the 2013 free agent market has made it clear that if Marco Scutaro is worth a three year deal then Adam LaRoche should be as well. The real issue facing Adam LaRoche is that aren't that many places that want him. LaRoche wants to be a National and the Nationals would like him back on their terms. No other team has really jumped into the LaRoche market and the Nationals are leaning on the option of playing Michael Morse at first if LaRoche walks.

There are those that look at Morse and LaRoche and the fact that if you remove the partial year LaRoche played and 2011 in which he missed almost the entire season then LaRoche has averaged 2.5 fWAR a season while as a National, Morse has averaged 1.6. That is the difference of roughly one win and to be fair to Morse he did have a 3.3 fWAR season in the one year he managed to be fully healthy, but that is the issue with Morse. In eight major league seasons he has had over 500 plate appearances once while Adam LaRoche has done it in all but the season he was first called up and 2011.

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Will Beastmode Be Leastmode? A Look At the Nats Outfield

The long lasting National(s) nightmare is over, as we are graced with the return of Beastmode, Michael Morse. After having sustained a latissumus dorsi injury, more than likely associated with his move to the outfield and the throws accompanying a patrol of said position, #38 is poised for a raucous return to the home nine.

With this brings minor turmoil to the lineup; the emergence of Steve Lombardozzi, and the return of the previously potent and man of significant first base defensive prowess Adam LaRoche, we have a minor logjam at the positions that Morse has come to call home. This is before we even take into consideration other players that have manned the field in Morse's absence, players such as Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina, and Bryce Harper, to name a few.

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