With the advent and development of advanced baseball statistics, there are tangible ways to measure LaRoche’s defensive impact beyond scouting reports. LaRoche finished second in the NL last season with a .995 fielding percentage and committed seven errors, but both numbers describe little.
Last season, according to John Dewan, author of the Fielding Bible and creator of the defensive runs saved metric, LaRoche ranked among the top 10 first basemen with his ability to handle difficult throws, and saved two runs with scoops. Casey Kotchman led the majors with four runs saved with picks. But to the Nationals, the confidence instilled by LaRoche helps prevent more mistakes.
“It’s not only the ones he picks but the ones he doesn’t pick, because our minds relax,” Desmond said. “I can just throw it. It frees you up as opposed to someone that stands over there and wants you to hit them in the chest every time.”
When LaRoche played first base for the Atlanta Braves while battling attention deficit disorder early in his career, he actually cost his teams 13 runs and 11 runs, respectively, in 2005 and 2006. The biggest improvement in LaRoche’s game, Dewan said, was his improved range. Overall, LaRoche saved eight more runs last year than the average first baseman, the fourth-best mark in the majors. “He is making a lot more plays than he was making before,” Dewan said.
When LaRoche does falter at first base, he fears he looks lazy to the outside observer. His relaxed demeanor and deliberate movements, however, are what help him in difficult situations.
“I just kinda have a different style when it comes to groundballs,” he said. “I’m not in a real squatted position. I’m more kinda upright and come in and trust my hands. It’s the way I’ve always done it and it’s worked and I’ve never had to change that. Hitting, I’ve gone through some minor tweaks and stuff but on defense, I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything different.”