The Chicago White Sox have had their fair share of disappointments in 2015, but designated hitter Adam LaRoche looks to be turning a corner.
In fact, early concerns about LaRoche may have even been a little overblown. He’s always been a slow starter. Look no further than his career monthly OPS break down. LaRoche has a .713 career OPS in the month of April and he proved to be a little worse in ’15, posting a .639 mark.
Switch the page to May and LaRoche is riding a .280/.433/.415 slash line since the end of April. What’s notable about this line is the .433 OBP, which has driven his ’15 OBP to a team high .370. The highest contributing factor to LaRoche’s OBP is that he has been a walk machine. He has 29 free passes this season, which ties him for 8th in major league baseball in that category.
On the flip side, he’s also sporting a 28.7% strike out rate, which is much higher than his career 22% whiff percentage. I see the uptick in strike outs as an indication that LaRoche may be pressing, and that’s largely because he’s experienced a power outage since coming to the South Side.
Early concerns about LaRoche may have been a little overblown considering his history.
So where has the power gone?
The raw power actually hasn’t gone anywhere. LaRoche’s HR/FB ratio is sitting at 14.7%, which is in line with his career norms. Similar to Avisail Garcia, LaRoche’s 34.7% fly ball rate is below average for a perceived power hitter, while his 43.9% groundball rate is more what you would expect for a contact hitter than a lefty masher. Had LaRoche been hitting as many fly balls in ’15 as he has historically, then there wouldn’t be much disparity between his home runs in ’15 relative to his career.
This is good news. A low HR/FB ratio combined with a fly ball rate that was in line with career norms would mean that grandfather time was catching up to the 35 year-old, and he was losing some of his natural power. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.
There’s another anomaly contributing to LaRoche’s lack of power that is simply unsustainable.
Back in January, ESPN insider Tony Blengino penned a piece about why Adam LaRoche might just challenge for the home run title in ’15. According to Blengino, LaRoche was a perfect fit for U.S. Cellular field:
"“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.”"
Blengino was taking LaRoche’s ’14 production and translating it into what it would have been had he played half his games in U.S. Cellular field. It wasn’t absurd to expect that type of line from LaRoche, and I think that’s the type of production Rick Hahn had in mind when he signed him.
The reason for such lofty expectations is that U.S. Cellular was built for LaRoche. The summer heat, combined with the right-center power alley was the perfect combination for the former Washington Nationals’ star to take his game to the next level, even as he entered into the final stage of his career.
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At the moment, LaRoche has a .187/.322/.293 slash line at U.S. Cellular field. A .293 slugging percentage at a park whose architect must have had him in mind.
LaRoche will not continue to slug .293 at the Cell. It’s that simple.
Trust me when I say that the above slash line at The Cell will improve drastically as the year goes on.
The fact that LaRoche hasn’t even capitalized on his home ballpark is alone reason for optimism moving forward.
Want even more optimism? LaRoche’s best season was in 2012, in which he hit 33 home runs. Leaving May that year, he only had 8. Last year, when he hit 26 long balls, he had 7 heading into June. So far he has 5, meaning he’s not too off course.
The power will come for LaRoche, and White Sox fans just have to have patience when it comes to the lefty slugger. He has a career .884 and .883 OPS in the months of August and September respectively. For whatever reason, that’s when he typically finds his power stroke.
Thus, LaRoche’s .333/.412/.533 line over the last 7 days is only a sign of things to come, and more likely than not, that type of production will come in earnest when the White Sox are hopefully still in the hunt as the season comes to a close.