Simply looking at Andy LaRoche’s player page, it’s easy to see why the Pittsburgh Pirates non-tendered the third baseman this season. For the second time in three seasons, the younger A. LaRoche was significantly below replacement. In both of those seasons, LaRoche posted a 50 or lower wRC+, a completely useless performances at the plate. Although LaRoche certainly wasn’t bad with the leather, an average-fielding third baseman with no bat gives a team no reason to retain him. For that reason, it’s also no surprise that the best LaRoche could manage was a minor league contract, which he received from the Oakland Athletics last Monday.
For all the reasons mentioned above and more, LaRoche will turn 28 next season, and his career could be over almost before it started. But despite how disgusting his 2008 and 2010 seasons were, LaRoche is only one year removed from posting a 2.6 WAR season. In 2009, LaRoche put together a .258/.330/.401 line with solid defense at third base, showing just some of the potential that was evident during his time in the minor leagues. In his age 22 and 23 seasons, between AA and AAA, LaRoche posted a wOBA above .400. with great peripheral numbers. His walk rates were always above 10%, his ISOs above .200, and his strikeout rates under 15%. Although his peripherals aren’t nearly as good at the MLB level, they’re better than his overall line would indicate. The problem so far is a dreadful .252 BABIP, a mark which still can’t be taken as true talent despite 902 career balls in play.
Five years later, LaRoche is dangerously close to inheriting the dreaded “bust” label. To avoid that label, he first needs a chance to start again, and as long as Kevin Kouzmanoff is in Oakland, that probably won’t happen, and rightly so. But as much as any of the multitude of minor league signings this week during the dog days of winter, I feel that Andy LaRoche could make an impact at the MLB level. Although he may never get over the BABIP issues that have suppressed his bat, it’s worth investigating on a minor league flyer. With a glove that plays at third base, the kind of bat that he displayed in the minors and in 2009 would make him a useful player – if not a potentially useful starter – at the big league level.
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