Basically, as far as we can tell: LaRoche likes bringing his son in the clubhouse all the time. He told the White Sox GM that when he signed. The GM and manager both said sure. LaRoche and the Sox were both awful in 2015, and the GM’s boss decided that some changes were needed. So he told LaRoche to stop bringing his son into the clubhouse all the time. LaRoche peaced out. That’s pretty much it.
Adam LaRoche is one of the most successful draft-and-follow picks the Braves ever took — they got him in the 29th round in 2000. (This is a big part of what made Roy Clark’s reputation.) The son of longtime reliever Dave LaRoche, Adam had big league bloodlines, a nice left-handed uppercut swing, and was coming off a JuCo World Series MVP at Seminole State, where he was an infielder and pitcher. The Braves took one look at him and thought “first baseman,” and that’s pretty much all he did as a professional: other than two chances as a right fielder and 1 2/3 IP as a pitcher in the minors, he was a first baseman for every single inning he played in seven years with the Braves.
Then, in January 2007, they traded him to the Pirates for another left-handed pitcher: Mike Gonzalez, who used to be known on this blog as “The Automatic Lefty.” (That was to distinguish him from “The Automatic Righty,” Rafael Soriano, whose retirement was announced yesterday.)
I don’t know if any Braves position player in the last nineteen years has suffered as much fan abuse as LaRoche. Maybe Blauser, over a longer period of time. There have been guys who were more hated, but they didn’t last long. LaRoche’s problems were twofold. First, he is, even when he is taking his ADD medication… I’ll say “laid-back”. Second, he isn’t Fred McGriff or Andres Galarraga. Of course, he looks a lot better when compared to Scott Thorman and Casey Kotchman.
As someone noted on a previous thread, we used to have a commenter named Landogarner who hated Adam LaRoche with a passion and referred to him as “Huckleberry.” Adam ran like a catcher, or slower, and had occasional mental lapses, many of which may have been related to his ADD — apparently, he only started taking Ritalin in 2006, his last year with a Braves before they traded him away. But, but: as Mac pointed out, he was “the best first baseman the Braves have produced since… Gosh, I don’t know when. If we don’t count Klesko, he might be the best they’ve produced in Atlanta.” He wrote that in 2004, and there’s really only one guy who’s supplanted him on the franchise list. Adam LaRoche is the second-best homegrown 1B in Atlanta history, behind only Freddie.
He came up with a pretty good defensive reputation, though between his lead feet and his mental lapses, advanced defensive metrics don’t like him. But he could hit. His average was usually between .250 and .270, and he generally struck out 130 times a year, but he drew a fair number of walks and hit 20-30 homers a year. In a twelve-year career, he was worth 14.1 rWAR and 11.3 fWAR. He was basically a below-average but above-replacement player.
A big part of the problem is that he was a notoriously slow starter. Over his entire career, he had a .713 OPS in April and an .815 OPS the rest of the time (including an .864 OPS from August 1 to the end of the year). Just for comparison, all hitters in baseball had a combined .705 OPS in April last year, and a .724 OPS the rest of the way. Adam’s hundred-point gap is an extreme outlier.
Given those splits, which were pretty well-known around here, it’s actually somewhat shocking that he was only involved in one real midseason trade, in 2009, when the Braves traded Casey Kotchman for him and he hit .325/.401/.557 in the final 57 games of the season. (He was actually involved in two trades in late July: first, the Pirates traded him to the Red Sox, and a week later, the Red Sox traded him to us. It was basically a delayed three-team trade.) It was about the only good thing the Kotch Rocket ever did for us.
He wasn’t very offensively consistent, as you might expect from a guy who typically spent the first half rediscovering his long, complicated swing, and that was dismaying to teams who employed him because he didn’t really have any other salable skills. His glove and legs certainly weren’t enough to keep him on the field. When his OPS+ was above 110, he was playable. When it was above 120, he was somewhere around league-average. And when that coincided with a decent year in the field, he was one of the better first basemen in the league. But that only happened in 2006, 2012, and 2014. The rest of the time, he mostly alternated average years with below-average years.
It’s kind of interesting that a player who was basically adequate inspired such strong reactions: though many fans around here absolutely loathed him, his teammates reportedly love him. But his sim scores compare him to guys like J.T. Snow and Jeff Burroughs and Matt Stairs, and that’s probably about right. Snow is an interesting case, because despite his six consecutive Gold Gloves, defensive metrics like TotalZone regard him about as poorly as LaRoche. And his bat wasn’t that much worse. In all, they were fairly similar players.
Even if not for the bizarre clubhouse squabble that appears to have precipitated his retirement, it’s probably not a bad time for him to go. He was good as a 34-year old in 2014, but he’s 36 now and coming off a dreadful campaign, and his best years are surely behind him, while his son’s best years are all ahead. He’ll have all the time in the world to go hunting with Chipper Jones. Twelve years in the big leagues and 255 homers from a 29th-round draft pick are nothing to sneeze at.