Where's Andy?

Rob Neyer on the Pirates' benching of Andy LaRoche again today:

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.

Probably not. Neyer is surely at least partly right that there have been physical issues; I think LaRoche's thumb played some role in his struggles last year. This year, though? After LaRoche's solid Spring Training, it could just be that he's had a few bad games. Everyone has them, and it's possible that LaRoche might've just had several in a row. He's only started four games, and had fifteen plate appearances.

The Pirates don't seem to be reading the situation that way, though, or they wouldn't be benching him. And they appear to be right to be concerned--when you're watching, you don't get the impression that LaRoche has had four games' worth of bad luck, you get the impression that LaRoche has forgotten how to play baseball, in a way the Pirates haven't seen since the days of the similarly promising J.J. DavisExample:

Over these past two days, LaRoche has been flipping his glove while fielding ground balls. In other words, LaRoche started with his glove facing his body and then flipped it over to make the play. The motion made LaRoche a split-second late in getting his glove down to field the ball, enough time to give him problems. It also inadvertently caused him to pull his hands back a bit, which also throws off timing.

"I didn't even notice I was doing it," LaRoche said after his infield session. "I guess it's just one of those things that you're not even paying attention to and you don't even realize you're doing it until someone points it out to you."

It's human nature to develop bad habits that need to be corrected, and of course players do this all the time with their hitting. But the glove-flipping thing honestly strikes me as really obvious. 

If what we've seen so far from LaRoche this year is what we're going to continue to see--and of course it's far from obvious that will be the case--I don't think that LaRoche can merely be dismissed as a bad player, or a guy who wasn't good enough for the majors. That just isn't consistent with the way he's looked. Instead, he looks like a player who got to the majors and wet the bed. He gets into games that matter and it appears the sequences of tasks he's supposed to complete break down, to the point where he doesn't know not to flip his glove, or to where even a routine popup becomes a grotesque misadventure. He plays as if he's frantically thinking about what he's supposed to do next, and if that's what going on, that's no way to play baseball. If you think about the series of things you have to do to tie your shoe, even that can seem difficult.

Of course, I'm speculating, and I know these types of players are extremely rare if they exist at all--the game in Class AAA, where LaRoche has been successful for years, is very similar to the one that's played in the majors. So I hold out hope that LaRoche will turn it around. Let's hope he does. It's still only been four bad games since his strong Spring Training.

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