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Benching Andy LaRoche

4/13/2009

Via the Bucco Blog, a bit of unhappy news (at least to those of us who believe in minor-league stats):

    Andy LaRoche, riding an 0-for-14 stretch at the plate, is out of the starting lineup again today. Ramon Vazquez will start at third base for the home opener.
    "We're going to give Andy every chance to work through this," manager John Russell said.

What I think: There is something wrong with Andy LaRoche.
I mean, something seriously wrong.

LaRoche is still relatively young. He's played Triple-A ball at the ages of 22, 23, and 24, and in 167 games he's got a .310/.412/.544 line. Granted, much of that's come in a hitter's park in a hitter's league, but I'd be willing to bet the great majority of hitters that young with those numbers at that level wind up becoming good major league players, if not stars.

LaRoche's line in the majors: .176/.279/.261. And we're not talking about a cup of coffee; that's 382 plate appearances. Now, I know that 382 plate appearances is not an enormous sample, but the difference between LaRoche's minor- and major-league performance is enormous enough that I think we have to at least wonder, you know?

The Dodgers had him, and decided that (first) Blake DeWitt and (then) Casey Blake were better options at third base than their hot prospect with the big Triple-A stats. The Pirates, a week into LaRoche's first full (maybe) season with the club, are benching him. Maybe he's just not right, physically. That would be my guess, because I think the player who can thrive in Triple-A but can't emotionally cope with the majors is exceptionally rare (if that beast even exists).

One thing I'm fairly sure of, though: If there's really something wrong with Andy LaRoche, benching him for a game or three isn't going to fix it. I suspect he might need a whole lot of time and maybe a whole team of specialists.