Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, the Nationals‘ two powerhouse offensive forces, were honored as the top National League hitters at their respective positions Thursday, each bestowed with their first-ever Silver Slugger Awards. Stephen Strasburg, whose pitching shutdown was among the most debated subjects in baseball this season, was also honored — but for his contributions at the plate, as the best hitting pitcher in the National League.
The trio is the biggest single-season haul for the Nationals, who enjoyed a banner season and the best record in baseball, in part, because of the offensive performances of LaRoche and Desmond. No other team in baseball won as many Silver Slugger Awards as the Nationals this season. The only Nationals to previously win the award are Ryan Zimmerman, who was honored with the distinction in 2009 and 2010, and Alfonso Soriano in 2006. The Silver Slugger Awards, presented by Louisville Slugger on MLB Network, are voted on by managers and coaches in each league and based on the regular season performances of players.
LaRoche, 33, led all NL first basemen with a .510 slugging percentage, .853 OPS, 33 home runs and 100 RBI. In a breakout season, all-star Desmond, 27, was perhaps the best shortstop in baseball, not just the NL, leading players at his position in his league with a .511 slugging percentage, .845 OPS, 25 home runs and 73 RBI. Strasburg, known for his prowess throwing a baseball, posted one of the finest hitting seasons for a pitcher in the past 30-plus years, leading all pitchers with a .759 OPS, while hitting .277 with seven RBI.
The Nationals’ offense began the season miserably slow but carried almost exclusively by LaRoche and Desmond. Known for notoriously slow starts, LaRoche began the season on a torrid pace, hitting .287 with eight home runs and 35 RBI over the first two months for an offense that was without Jayson Werth, Michael Morse and Zimmerman for stretches. He rebounded strongly from a 2011 season in which he missed most of the year with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. While at times streaky, LaRoche was still the team’s best power hitter, at one point in early September, homering in five of six games. He became the seventh NL first baseman to win both the Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger in the same season. (In 2009, Zimmerman won both awards.)
LaRoche, a consistent power hitter in his career, finished with a slash line of .271/.510/.853, all above career averages and his finest season since 2006. He also earned his first Gold Glove for his stellar defense at first base, and is the top free agent first baseman on the market. LaRoche has made it clear he wants to return to Washington and his agents and the Nationals have been in talks, but both sides agreed to allow him to seek out interested teams to determine his market value.
After a 2011 season that ranked him among the most ineffective offensive players in baseball, Desmond finally fulfilled the high ceiling the Nationals long expected from him. Despite missing 25 games with an oblique injury, Desmond smashed 25 home runs – three more than he had in his previous two-plus season combined. Even before that, as he battled through the pain, he still produced one of the best power stretches of his career, hitting six home runs in the month before landing on the disabled list. Desmond, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time and could be in line for an extension soon, also had a penchant for producing big hits in crucial situations.
Strasburg, 24, who worked on his hitting last offseason with a friend in San Diego, posted the 30th highest OPS for a pitcher with at least 40 plate appearances since 1980, when the Silver Slugger Award was first awarded. Even after opposing teams began discovering his ability at the plate, Strasburg still managed to hit. In mid-July, he smacked an RBI single to right field in a 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins — Manager Ozzie Guillen intentionally walked catcher Jhonatan Solano to get to Strasburg. He also smashed his first career home run this season, on May 20. He paced all pitchers with four doubles and a .333 on-base percentage.
While neither LaRoche or Desmond were selected as finalists for the NL MVP awards, both were undoubtedly among the best players in the league this season and stand to receive at least a few fringe votes. Nationals players, and their manager, believe LaRoche was the team’s MVP, but Desmond isn’t far behind because he plays a premium position.
1B: Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
2B: Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
3B: Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
SS: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
OF: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
OF: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
OF: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
C: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
P: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
1B: Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers
2B: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
SS: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
OF: Mike Trout, L.A. Angels
OF: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
OF: Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
C: A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox
DH: Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals