How does a new hitting environment change a slugger’s value? When it was rumored that Adam LaRoche received a two year twenty-million dollar contract I started researching his stats in case he signed. Washington is neutral in terms of ballpark effect, so it was going to be interesting to see where LaRoche would land. It’s been confirmed that he signed with the White Sox and should slot in to bat right behind Rookie of the Year Jose Abreau and ahead of Avisail Garcia. Then I followed up on Fangraphs.com to see how their ballpark effect rated the “Cell”, and saw that it was tied for third for home runs. Entering drafts in 2014, Adam LaRoche had an average draft position of 270 and was the 39th first baseman taken. At a time where fantasy owners are craving home runs, how does a player that has averaged 26 home runs over the last three years fall so far? Easy. LaRoche, while being a solid ballplayer is not sexy name. Due to our incessant pursuit of the next big thing, players like LaRoche fall below the value they provide. In fact, here is the average LaRochian season over the last three years:
Adam LaRoche last 3-year average: 140 G, 73 R, 26 HR, 92 RBI, 3 SB .259/.362/.455
His statistics are not overwhelming but you can set your watch to them. Moving to a hitter’s environment has to grow his home run numbers over 30 this year. Here is his map featuring his home runs in 2014 with an overlay of the Cell:
In 2014, LaRoche’s average standard distance for a home run was 396.7 feet with average speed off the bat of 103.8 MPH. Chicago used sixteen hitters in the clean-up position last year. While they were not unproductive, it does give a hint as to what Adam LaRoche’s ceiling could be:
White Sox “4” hitters 2014: 162 G, 76 R, 35 HR, 94 RBI, 4 SB .242/.307/.462
I am not going out on a limb here when I say that LaRoche will be a big upgrade over Adam Dunn. What intrigues me the most will be if LaRoche goes from under-rated to over-rated in upcoming fantasy drafts. Similar to Brian McCann moving to the American League, LaRoche will have to use the opposite field more to be successful. Teams will be shifting him to try and take hits away. Here is his spray chart from this season:
My favorite is his zone profile. While you can shift a player, he really hurts mistakes middle-in and middle-low. You can shift a hitter all you want but you cannot keep the ball in the park. Inside pitches at the Cell will be souvenirs in 2015:
With a look to the future I am comfortable paying for Adam LaRoche to hit 30-35 home runs and even exceed that total if he is comfortable in his adjustment to the American League and the designated position. This is also a huge signing for the White Sox to keep Jose Abreu fresh as he had leg problems last year. Adam Eaton should also see a bump in value as runs scored will be aplenty. However, this is a team that needs an upgrade in pitching and the bullpen if they wish to contend. I applaud the signing of LaRoche and this signals that the American League Central will be fun to watch. Sometimes steady can be sexy. welcome to the Chicago Adam LaRoche!
Statistical credits: ESPN.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, Baseball-Reference.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/usnmSl
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Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!