I'd been thinking about writing about this myself. I'm not terribly consistent about it, but I do take some measure of personal pride in not getting too upset about streaks. And I still think LaRoche will be fine, even though this particular slump has gone on long enough that it's going to be very hard for him to put up the numbers we expected of him at the beginning of the season. (In our community projections, we guessed he'd hit .281/.350/.539.)
Still, it's becoming hard for even me to avoid worrying, because not only is LaRoche not putting up good numbers, he doesn't even look like he knows what he's doing. He passes on crushable pitches and swings at horrible ones. He rarely hits the ball with any authority.
At some point, what to do about LaRoche is a question that's really outside the scope of this blog. I don't know LaRoche or anyone who works with the Pirates, so I can't really say what's best for him. Plainly, LaRoche is an important player for the Pirates, and the Pirates have a lot riding his success, so this isn't a situation like the case of John Wasdin in which I can just say, "He stinks. Cut him" and leave it at that. There are few serious options here except finding a way to get LaRoche back on track, and I don't know how to do that.
I will say, though, that if the Pirates were to fire Jeff Manto tomorrow, I wouldn't exactly be upset. It's not just because LaRoche can't get untracked, it's because the offense is horrible and because, in this non-scout's humble opinion, the hitters look like they have no idea what to think when they enter the batter's box. They are easily fooled. They look like they guess wrong way too frequently about what pitch is going to be thrown and where it is going to do. They take hittable pitches, even with two strikes. They wave at pitches way outside the zone. Further, Manto's own ludicrous statements in the press inspire no confidence. Again, I'm not close to the Pirates; maybe Manto is a great coach who has simply been dealt a godawful hand. But if I were in charge, I'd be finding out if that's true, and if it's not, I'd let him go.
Beyond that, I'm not sure what I'd do. I agree with Jim Tracy (!) that it's unwise to bench LaRoche for long because he probably isn't going to fix his problem from the bench. And I do think it's too early to consider sending him to the minors. But that might eventually be something I'd consider.
It's worth pointing out, though, that LaRoche is just the nastiest example of a problem that seems to be systemic. The Pirates' offense has a .654 OPS. Before yesterday, it was .666. You can make up your own punchline about that one. Freddy Sanchez and Ronny Paulino aren't hitting, either. Jason Bay hasn't done that well for him. And most of the other hitters simply aren't any good. Ryan Doumit is the only hitter who is exceeding expectations, and he's only been around for a handful of games.
Just as worrisome is the offense's tendency to make mediocre starting pitchers look like Walter Johnson. The Bucs haven't been facing Ben Sheets and Chris Carpenter and Roy Oswalt every night. Instead, they've been shut down by Matt Belisle, Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright, Randy Keisler, Russ Ortiz, Claudio Vargas, Randy Wolf, Belisle (again), and Jason Marquis. They've faced a number of other mediocre starters, too. And for all that, as Gene Collier points out today, they've scored as many as seven runs just one time. Once! And they've scored three runs or fewer more times than they've scored four or more.
LaRoche is surely part of the problem right now. But he's just the tip of the iceberg. When everyone on the team fails to hit for over a month, the problem may have something to do with the person who acquired the hitters. When the entire team fails to hit for years at a time, it definitely has something to do with the GM. And the Pirates haven't been able to hit since 2003.