Pat has a good new post about Andy LaRoche, and I'd like to amplify some of his points here and add a couple of my own. This isn't so much an argument as a series of semi-related points.
1. Again, and this is going to be a recurring theme here for the next couple years, minor league numbers matter. This is a fact. If you don't like it, too bad.
For the next several months, you should ignore anyone who says the Pirates should bench LaRoche, or that the Jason Bay trade was a failure because of LaRoche, without engaging with LaRoche's performance in the minors. LaRoche has had 177 at bats in the majors this year going into today. That's not terribly meaningful compared to what he did in the minors, which was excellent.
I don't mean to shut down debate. Perhaps there is a good argument to be made that LaRoche shouldn't be starting and won't ever be a good player. Nearly all the ones I've seen, though, pretend his minor league career didn't exist or didn't matter.
2. It's common for all kinds of players, including very good players, to start their major league careers slowly. Check out Vlad's excellent comment from a couple weeks back. Vlad names the following excellent third basemen who started their careers in extremely frustrating fashion: Mike Schmidt, Matt Williams, Gary Gaetti, Jim Thome and Robin Ventura. I'd add Troy Glaus and Dean Palmer to that list. It's true that some of those players were younger than LaRoche when they got started, but you can blame the Dodgers for that. He's been hitting like crazy in the high levels of the minors for quite a while. He should have gotten through the adjustment phase already, but the Dodgers threw up roadblocks for years.
3. Pat's right that the Dodgers' apparently low opinion of LaRoche means nothing.
4. Fan opinion is incredibly fickle. This is not new and it shouldn't be surprising, but I admit to feeling baffled every time I open a new Post-Gazette Q+A, only to see the range of opinions tethered like a dog to whatever the Pirates have done in the past two weeks, good or bad. Certainly anyone with a heart is likely to be guilty to some degree, but the extent to which opinions are formed based on a couple weeks or a month of bad play is still far too much. If you're the sort of person who imagines playoff games at PNC every time the Pirates have two good weeks or railed about benching Jason Bay every time he had an 0-fer, you need to relax.
Or to rephrase, because that was kind of an ad hominem attack to describe something we all do to some extent anyway: it's unwise to freak out about small sample sizes.
5. With all due respect to the folks who are still buying tickets, this year doesn't matter. The Pirates are building for the future--and not just for 2009, but for well beyond that. Playing Doug Mientkiewicz or Jose Bautista rather than LaRoche is silly unless you are certain that LaRoche has no future, in which case I would point you back to Point 1 above.