ESPN Predicts Great Things for LaRoche

Rob Nyer, writing in his ESPN Blog, is saying some of the same things we said last year when third baseman Andy LaRoche was shuffled around without getting an honest shot at the open third base job.

Nyer wrote: "Let's try this LaRoche thing again. Does anyone remember how many times last spring and summer I wrote that the Dodgers should have given Andy LaRoche the everyday job at third base? I don't, either. But it was a lot. And if they'd taken my advice, they wouldn't have finished in first place. So that's on me."

He quoted Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

This is Andy LaRoche's year.

v That torn right thumb is finally, fully healed, Andy LaRoche will insist. But the confidence that clearly crumbled in those two mercilessly cruel months that followed his trade to Pittsburgh last summer?

v Might take a while.
v "I won't lie to you: I was down on myself. I really was," the Pirates' third baseman was recalling the other day. "Nothing was going my way, and it felt like I was putting all my energy just into fighting through it."

v One element to which LaRoche clings: He was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Dodgers' system entering the 2007 season by Baseball America, No. 33 overall in baseball entering last season. He is a career .295 hitter in the minors, with a terrific .382 on-base percentage and 95 home runs in 1,800 at-bats.

v And he is only 25 years old, with 111 games in the majors.

v "That's the thing, the knowledge that I've hit all my life," LaRoche said. "I just need to start fresh."
Management is committed to giving LaRoche a chance as the everyday third baseman, partly because he is out of options, partly because he was one of the key acquisitions in the Jason Bay trade, but largely because of his potential. He is not a complete lock, but he would need to struggle at that 2008 level for prospect Neil Walker or someone else to have a chance.

No mention here of LaRoche's absurdly low -- by his standards, anyway -- hit percentage; only 21 percent of the balls he put into play resulted in hits. Earlier in his pro career, he was always in the high 20s. But that doesn't necessarily mean he was terribly unlucky.

Hit percentages for hitters aren't like hit percentages for pitchers. As you know, major league pitchers all tend to give up roughly a .300 batting average on balls in play. More than 10 or 20 points either way can usually be attributed to luck. Generally speaking.

Hitters do tend to hover around 30 percent, but some are naturally going to be closer to 35 percent or 25 percent. Come to think of it, 21 percent is terribly low. Impossible, almost. Of course, it's almost impossible to hit .166 in 223 at-bats, too. And LaRoche managed to do that, too. Maybe those two things are somehow related?

Anyway, the Pirates' confidence is heartening. I don't doubt that LaRoche's thumb was hurting him, I don't doubt that LaRoche was down on himself, and I don't doubt that he was terribly unlucky.

If his thumb's healed up and he's happy with himself and he's reasonably lucky, he's going to be pretty decent, at least. So I'll go out on a limb and predict that the 2009 Pirates will boast the No. 1 all-brother 1B/3B combination in major league history.

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