Saturday, January 8, 2011

LaRoche And Jones By the Numbers

Adam LaRoche signed a two-year contract with the Washington Nats yesterday. He’ll get $7M in 2011 and $8M in 2012, with a $10M mutual option/$1M buyout for 2012 for a guaranteed total of $16M.

The Pirates dealt him to Boston in 2009 for RHP Hunter Strickland, now 26 and who spent last season in High Class A Bradenton, and since-released SS Argenis Diaz. They felt they couldn't pony up enough to keep LaRoche around when he became a free agent.

The Pirates had an unexpected windfall after the trade when Garrett Jones came out of nowhere to claim the first base job. And when we look at the stats put up since the July 2009 trade, the LaRoche-for-Jones clearance was a pretty copacetic swap.

Offensively, LaRoche hit .278/38/143 in 791 at-bats after leaving Pittsburgh; Jones batted .263/42/130 in 906 at-bats as his replacement. Jones wasn't as productive, but close enough considering the gaping hole that LaRoche's absence was anticipated to leave.

Fielding, well that was another story. The steady-as-she-goes LaRoche has a lifetime UZR/150 of -2.6; his range was never much but he caught everything he could get to. Jones has a career rating of -7.1, and that doesn't really factor in his missed throws and DPs unturned.

It was for sure a sweet financial coup. LaRoche was earning $7.05M as a Bucco, and got $4.5M last year from Arizona, though he had to sweat it out til January to close that deal (and there's no way he would have resigned in Pittsburgh for that amount).

He's been a bargain; his WAR over 2009-10 averaged 2.4; his street value over the two seasons according to Fangraphs should have been $19.9M, or just under $10M/year.

The Bucs plugged in Garrett Jones, who earned $400K and $425K during the same span. His WAR averaged 1.4, although unlike the steady LaRoche, his WAR dropped from 2.7 in '09 to 0.1 in 2010. His Fangraphs value was $12.9M.

So assuming - and it's a very unlikely assumption - LaRoche signed with Pittsburgh for the same salary he took with the D-Backs, and discounting time played in 2009, the Pirates saved about $6M by swapping out LaRoche for Jones, at a WAR cost of a couple of wins in 2010 (the WARs were similar in 2009, so that season was a wash).

Neither player was the Pirate first baseman of the future (LaRoche is 31, Jones will be 30 in June). In fact, with the-soon-to-be-34 Lyle Overbay's addition, the Bucs officially admitted they have no first baseman of the future, unless during knee surgery Steve Pearce received bionic implants to improve his eye against LHP, and turn his gappers into homers.

And hey, with that being the case, saving a few mil and losing 105 games instead of 103 was probably worth the move.


WilliamJPellas said...

I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with your assessment here, Ron, if only because the team struck silver, though not gold, with Garrett Jones. Had it not been for Jones, our lineup would have been even worse. Could an all time worst major league record have been avoided without Jones' power over the past two seasons? I doubt it.

Where LaRoche really separates himself from Jones is, of course, with his glove. He is definitely a good defensive first sacker. LaRoche also has a better body of work over a longer period of time, and will no doubt have the better career of the two. But at the moment---the point of your article---given the current condition of the team, there simply is not enough difference between them to justify the kind of money it would have taken to retain LaRoche. I hate coming to that conclusion because to me it seems to be some justification for the "who cares about the team right now 'cuz we're rebuilding" approach of Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington, but I can't say they were wrong here.

Ron Ieraci said...

Oh, it worked out OK, Wil, but that's not the FO's fault.

God only knows who would have ended up there if they hadn't stumbled on Jones, much like second base would have been a black hole if Neal Walker wouldn't have stepped it up.

So while all's well that ends well, it was only dumb luck, not a "plan," that saved Neal's bacon in this case.