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Andy LaRoche: What to Expect?

I wonder what everyone thinks about Andy LaRoche keeping up his pace all year. The recap: LaRoche was mediocre at the plate throughout much of the 2009 season, although he may have been slowed somewhat by a lingering thumb injury that was held over from the previous year. He came on strong in September and has continued to hit this year.

LaRoche isn't striking out or walking at particularly different rates than he did last year (or at least he wasn't before last night's three-walk performance). He also isn't hitting for much more power. The difference has been that he's hitting more line drives. LaRoche had a 48.5% ground ball rate last year; this year it's 29.5%. His line drive rate in 2009 was 17.5%, and this year it's almost twice as high, at 32.8%. I'm not sure if that's related to his hand injury, or he's made adjustments to his approach, or it's just luck. But it does at least suggest that the huge leap forward in LaRoche's batting average isn't completely fluky.

I'm so used to thinking the Jason Bay trade was a dud that I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, but LaRoche and Bryan Morris might be the two most outstanding performers at any level of the Pirates' system this year (although you could make the argument for several others, including Rudy Owens, Tony Sanchez, Steve Pearce, Neil Walker and Evan Meek).