Every year in fantasy baseball, there are players who were overlooked during the drafts and later became fantasy all-stars and helped some fortunate manager to the fantasy baseball championship. It happens; that’s the beauty of fantasy baseball. Everybody loves to find that hidden gem that outperforms his draft position (if he was even drafted) and leave the other managers stupefied. Although there are always overlooked players, one player continues to be overlooked year after year: Adam LaRoche.
LaRoche is not a household name in the fantasy baseball world and thus does not get drafted very highly. LaRoche struggled mightily in 2011 with a labrum injury that ultimately ended his too-short season. According to Yahoo fantasy baseball, LaRoche has an average draft position (ADP) of 217.5 for the 2012 season. Write that number down on a piece of paper: 217.5!
From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche averaged 148 games played, 145 hits (37 doubles), 26 home runs and 89 RBIs per season while sporting a .273 AVG, .343 OBP and .836 OPS. In the 2010 season, LaRoche hit .261 with 25 home runs and a career-best 100 RBIs; he also had 146 hits (37 doubles) to go along with his .320 OBP and .788 OPS. While LaRoche’s 2010 totals and 2006 to 2010 averages are not Earth-shattering numbers, they are good numbers that are taken for granted. From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche was a poor man’s Ryan Howard in fantasy baseball, despite never sniffing Howard’s draft position!
I do not have any data about their ADPs prior to the 2012 drafts; however, I participated in a fantasy league with some colleagues last season. In that league, Howard was taken with the 13th overall pick; LaRoche went undrafted in a 190-picks draft.
As you can see from the numbers below, LaRoche was very similar to Howard in most offensive categories in those five seasons; LaRoche hit more doubles, struck out less frequently and walked less frequently while Howard hit more home runs and walked more frequently.
Due to his power numbers, Howard is certainly a more valuable fantasy hitter than LaRoche; however, LaRoche’s well-rounded numbers and extremely late ADP (217.5) are indications that a manager can use the earlier rounds to fulfill needs at other positions and nab LaRoche in the later rounds at a bargain. While LaRoche’s 2006 to 2010 numbers do not sound entirely elite, they are stronger numbers than they are given credit for.
Let us compare LaRoche’s 2006 to 2010 averages to other players with 1B eligibility in the 2011 season. In this season’s drafts, there were 32 players with 1B eligibility that had a better ADP than LaRoche. Of those 32 players, 15 of them hit more than 26 home runs in 2011. Of those 32, 14 of them had more than 89 RBIs and 21 of them hit higher than a .273 AVG. However, among those 32 players, only eight of them had better numbers in all three categories in the 2011 season!
1B who surpassed .273 AVG, 26 HR and 89 RBIs in 2011
Berkman, Lance: .301 AVG, 31 HR, 94 RBI
Cabrera, Miguel: .344 AVG, 30 HR, 105 RBI
Fielder, Prince: .299 AVG, 38 HR, 120 RBI
Gonzalez, Adrian: .338 AVG, 27 HR, 117 RBI
Konerko, Paul: .300 AVG, 31 HR, 105 RBI
Morse, Michael: .303 AVG, 31 HR, 95 RBI
Pujols, Albert: .299 AVG, 37 HR, 99 RBI
Votto, Joey: .309 AVG, 29 HR, 103 RBI
Only eight first basemen in the 2011 season were able to topple what LaRoche averaged through a five-season span in AVG, home runs and RBIs. While LaRoche’s perceived value will never match that of these aforementioned hitters, he is nevertheless in good company with his statistics. Despite his productivity, LaRoche continues to be overlooked and undervalued in fantasy baseball. Thus far, LaRoche seems to be on a strong recovery from his season-ending woes of 2011. Through 37 games, LaRoche has a .313 AVG, .403 OBP and .962 OPS. LaRoche currently has 42 hits (10 doubles), seven home runs, 31 RBIs, 23 walks and 36 strikeouts.
If LaRoche were to play every game for the rest of the season and maintain his current rate of production, he would finish with 179 hits (42 doubles), 29 home runs, 132 RBIs, 98 walks and 153 strikeouts in 158 games! These MVP-caliber numbers are highly unlikely for LaRoche; however, it would be fair to possibly project a .280 AVG and 90-plus RBIs. LaRoche averaged a .273 AVG, 26 home runs and 89 RBIs from 2006 to 2010 and it is possible that he may surpass those numbers this season. It is too early in the season to say that he will break those numbers with any certainty, but it is also too early to write off the possibility. I believe there is a very real possibility that LaRoche may have the best season of his MLB career this year.
From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche had a .414 BB/K ratio; he currently has a .571 BB/K ratio. From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche walked in 9.64% of his plate appearances; thus far in 2012, LaRoche has walked in 12.99% of his plate appearances. From 2006 to 2010, LaRoche struck out in 23.27% of his plate appearances; consistent to his nature, LaRoche has struck out in 22.73% of his plate appearances this season. Although it is still early in the season and great changes can occur at any time to a player’s statistics, LaRoche’s much-improved BB/K ratio and walk rate indicate that he may be a much more disciplined hitter now than he was earlier in his career.
Only time will tell if LaRoche will set new career-bests this season. Nevertheless, this examination of his statistics from 2006 to 2010, his much-improved walk rate and his much-improved BB/K ratio indicate that he may be taking his game to a new level he never reached before. LaRoche is indeed an undervalued fantasy first baseman.