Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche is enjoying a hot start to the season. A new stance, improved mechanics and more weight has helped him accumulate 29 hits in the first month of the season — a career best — and make better contact with the ball. LaRoche is connecting with 79.6 percent of the pitches he swings at, his best mark since 2008 when he hit .270 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI.
He is also having more balls in play go for hits than ever before.
And therein lies the rub. It is unlikely a 34-year-old hitter like LaRoche suddenly has control over balls in play, which means he is getting some lucky bounces. A look at his spray charts (below) shows this year is very much in line with what we have seen over the past two seasons.
Here are some batters who, in their age-34 season, also saw more than 36 percent of balls in play go for hits in March/April. Most were well below their early-season numbers by year’s end.
|March/April||End of Season|
To further complicate matters for LaRoche, defenses have employed the infield shift on him 37 times, 12th most in the major leagues, which has reduced his BABIP from .500 in non-shift situations to .351 when the shift is in play. I would expect more opposing managers to employ this strategy against LaRoche as the season wears on: He has just two ground balls hit to the third-base side of the field, both against right-handed pitchers.
It sounds like Adam LaRoche has made a ton of improvements in the offseason. Just don’t expect them to sustain a lucky start.