Hotter later: Adam LaRoche and 1st-half/2nd-half splits

With the news of Adam LaRoche‘s new deal with Washington, I remembered his well-known history of slow starts and hot finishes. Thanks to B-R’s new batting split finder (beta), we can compare his 1st-half/2nd-half splits to those of other players.

 

I ran a batting split search covering the past 10 years (2003-12) for each half, with minimums of 1,500 PAs in the 1st half and 1,200 PAs in the 2nd half. There are 219 players who appeared in both searches. I copied them into Excel and calculated the differences.

For the record, the composite numbers are just slightly better in the 2nd half — unweighted average of +.002 in BA and +.008 in OPS — so we can fairly talk about individual 1st-half/2nd-half splits without making an adjustment.

LaRoche’s OPS difference of +.118 (2nd) is the 5th largest in the group. The only larger gap among active players is Troy Tulowitzki‘s +.143 (2nd).

Here are the 20 biggest gaps in OPS by half:

  • Diff. / Half … Player
  • .143 / 2nd … Troy Tulowitzki
  • .132 / 2nd … Geoff Jenkins
  • .122 / 1st … Hank Blalock
  • .122 / 2nd … Carlos Delgado
  • .118 / 2nd … Adam LaRoche
  • .105 / 1st … Kevin Youkilis
  • .098 / 2nd … Adrian Beltre
  • .097 / 1st … Justin Morneau
  • .096 / 2nd … Ryan Howard
  • .092 / 1st … Eric Byrnes
  • .090 / 2nd … Ryan Zimmerman
  • .089 / 2nd … Aramis Ramirez
  • .087 / 1st … Sean Casey
  • .086 / 1st … Craig Biggio
  • .086 / 1st … Ivan Rodriguez
  • .085 / 2nd … Carlos Pena
  • .084 / 1st … Reed Johnson
  • .083 / 1st … Mike Lowell
  • .083 / 2nd … Jimmy Rollins
  • .081 / 2nd … Randy Winn

The top 20 OPS deltas for those better in the 1st half:

  • Diff. / Half … Player
  • .122 / 1st … Hank Blalock
  • .105 / 1st … Kevin Youkilis
  • .097 / 1st … Justin Morneau
  • .092 / 1st … Eric Byrnes
  • .087 / 1st … Sean Casey
  • .086 / 1st … Craig Biggio
  • .086 / 1st … Ivan Rodriguez
  • .084 / 1st … Reed Johnson
  • .083 / 1st … Mike Lowell
  • .081 / 1st … Craig Counsell
  • .080 / 1st … Scott Hatteberg
  • .072 / 1st … Chase Utley
  • .071 / 1st … Ian Kinsler
  • .066 / 1st … Jose Bautista
  • .063 / 1st … Jason Varitek
  • .062 / 1st … Ben Zobrist
  • .062 / 1st … Jose Guillen
  • .059 / 1st … Paul Lo Duca
  • .057 / 1st … Jonny Gomes
  • .056 / 1st … Brandon Inge

And the top 20 who are better in the 2nd half:

  • Diff. / Half … Player
  • .143 / 2nd … Troy Tulowitzki
  • .132 / 2nd … Geoff Jenkins
  • .122 / 2nd … Carlos Delgado
  • .118 / 2nd … Adam LaRoche
  • .098 / 2nd … Adrian Beltre
  • .096 / 2nd … Ryan Howard
  • .090 / 2nd … Ryan Zimmerman
  • .089 / 2nd … Aramis Ramirez
  • .085 / 2nd … Carlos Pena
  • .083 / 2nd … Jimmy Rollins
  • .081 / 2nd … Randy Winn
  • .075 / 2nd … Luke Scott
  • .074 / 2nd … Robinson Cano
  • .070 / 2nd … Juan Rivera
  • .069 / 2nd … Aubrey Huff
  • .068 / 2nd … Chase Headley
  • .068 / 2nd … Mark Ellis
  • .066 / 2nd … Jeff Francoeur
  • .064 / 2nd … Juan Uribe
  • .064 / 2nd … Eric Chavez

 

LaRoche in isolation

A detailed look at LaRoche’s splits by half turns up a bit of a puzzle:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+
1st Half 666 607 2618 2312 307 572 156 6 94 365 272 579 .247 .326 .442 .768 .288 88
2nd Half 520 482 2051 1847 261 542 125 4 103 319 174 456 .293 .353 .533 .886 .335 115

(And here you can see the year-by-year splits for 1st half and 2nd half.)

But what’s actually going on? A large change in BA, in a sample of this size, usually reflects some improvement in strikeout rate. But his SO rate is the same in each half, 22% of PAs, 25% of ABs. The change in BA comes entirely from balls in play (BAbip). Given what we know about BAbip, it seems odd to see such a large in-season gap built up over nine seasons.

Now to the power: His increased HR rate in the 2nd half (5.6% of ABs vs. 4.1%) suggests that he’s driving the ball more as the year goes on. However, his doubles rate is exactly the same, 6.7% of ABs in each half. Doubles as a percentage of hits actually go down a bit (27% to 23%), as do the combined extra-base hits (45% to 43%).

And, for whatever it’s worth, his walk rate also declines in the 2nd half, from 10.4% to 8.5%. The combined walk rate of the study group held steady at 9%.

I don’t know what it all adds up to. LaRoche’s breakdowns don’t seem to tell a typical story of a significant change in results. Am I missing something?

Lastly, his splits by month:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+
April/March 196 181 777 682 83 152 43 0 27 104 92 188 .223 .317 .405 .721 .267 78
May 226 205 887 771 107 190 60 3 26 124 99 188 .246 .330 .433 .763 .288 88
June 178 160 694 624 81 157 37 1 29 101 60 146 .252 .317 .454 .771 .281 88
July 176 165 695 629 86 183 38 2 34 99 54 143 .291 .344 .520 .864 .323 110
August 199 184 798 712 110 215 41 2 42 131 76 169 .302 .369 .542 .911 .341 122
Sept/Oct 211 194 818 741 101 217 62 2 39 125 65 201 .293 .348 .540 .887 .349 115

This table shows that measuring the “halves” as April-June and July-Sept. — which is closer to the actual midpoint than is the All-Star break — would yield an even bigger gain in the hot months: unweighted BA/OPS averages of .240/.752 for April-June, .295/.887 for July-Sept. That’s +.055 in BA and +.135 in OPS. And while the BA and OPS rise consistently from April through August, there’s a huge jump from June to July. All three months in the 2nd half are very good, while all three in the 1st half are mediocre to poor.

Is there a simple theme to these splits? For instance, if LaRoche simply preferred warmer weather, you’d expect to find some evidence in his ballpark splits and his day/night splits. But I can’t see it. So, let the speculation begin!

17 thoughts on “Hotter later: Adam LaRoche and 1st-half/2nd-half splits

  1. 1
    Doug says:

    I’m going to have to check out the batting-split tool. Interesting stuff.

    Sorry, John, but you lost me with you last sentence: “… if LaRoche simply preferred warmer weather, you’d expect to find some evidence in his ballpark splits and his day/night splits.”. Why would a preference for warmer weather be evident in either of those splits? Aren’t ballparks visited and day/night games pretty much as likely in warmer or colder weather?

    One thought that occurred to me regarding the turnaround from June to July is that LaRoche is just one of those guys who is rejuvenated by the A-S break (getting 3 or 4 days in a row off must seem like 3 weeks when you’ve only had the occasional single day off for 3 months). Heck, the anticipation of the A-S break might even influence improved play immediately prior.

    Also, improvement in BABIP in the hot months may be related to pitchers wearing down in the dog days and LaRoche taking advantage. Possibly this might be evident in his numbers for 3rd and later times through the order, if those were markedly better than 1st and 2nd times.

    • 5
      John Autin says:

      Doug, I was looking for LaRoche patterns in outdoor parks that tend to feature warmer or colder weather. For example, San Diego, LA, St. Louis and Miami tend to be warmer than NY, Philly, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. I didn’t see any pattern there.

      Similarly, the temperature is usually higher in day games than in night games. But he’s done significantly better in night games.

      • 7
        Doug says:

        Thanks, John.

        Those are pretty subtle effects you were looking for. Would be surprising if they were evident within in a season (over a career, perhaps).

    • 6
      John Autin says:

      “Improvement in BABIP in the hot months may be related to pitchers wearing down in the dog days….”

      I forgot to mention this when noting the minimal change in overall BA between the two halves. The BAbip is similar. For example, last year, BAbip was just .002 higher in the 2nd half.

      • 8
        Doug says:

        John,

        I was thinking about LaRoche, in particular. His BABIP is clearly hugely different in the 2nd half, as evidenced by your last table.

        • 9
          John Autin says:

          Doug, if the pitchers facing LaRoche are wearing down in the dog days, why wouldn’t a similar effect be found broadly?

          In 2006, for example, LaRoche’s BAbip splits by half were .285/.359. But the splits for his team, the Braves, were .307/.300 — i.e., the Braves besides LaRoche had a significantly better BAbip in the first half.

          Obviously, that’s just one year, but I can’t see why we should see pitcher fatigue as a factor in LaRoche’s BAbip splits when we don’t see that effect in the league as a whole.

        • 10
          Doug says:

          Why it could be a factor peculiar to LaRoche is that while most players (pitchers and hitters, both) are wearing down as the weather turns really hot, Laroche (and a handful of others) are apparently getting stronger. Thus, he’s enjoying an advantage few have and one not available to him earlier in the year.

          As to whether there could be any data to support this supposition of why LaRoche’s results are what they are, bstar’s comment #3 may be a clue. As he notes, LaRoche hits considerably more fly balls in the 2nd half – 0.96 GB/FB in Mar-Jun vs 0.86 after. Also, he takes fewer pitches, especially balls, in the 2nd half – in almost the same career PAs 1st and 2nd half (2358 vs 2311), LaRoche sees almost 10% fewer balls (3761 vs 3401) in the second half. The picture I’m getting is a tentative 1st half hitter vs. a confident, aggressive 2nd half hitter.

  2. 2
    Hartvig says:

    One think I expected to see that is sort of there is that there seem to be more catchers who do well in the first half of the season but it’s not as pronounced as I expected either. There are 6 guys on the list who were catchers for at least part of their careers: Rodriguez,Lo Duca & Varitek for their entire careers, Hatteberg & Inge for a significant portion of theirs and Biggio for a couple of years. It also seems that the Florida, Texas & Arizona team seem well represented which could be explained by the effect of playing in extreme heat & humidity.

    As far as LaRoche goes however, I haven’t a clue.

    • 12
      Brent says:

      Yes, I would expect Catchers and small middle infielders (especially 2nd basemen who are more liable to get taken out trying to turn a double play) to not do as well in the 2nd half (Red Schoendienst was pretty famous for being a 2nd half fader, I believe). I guess Kinsler, Utley, Counsell and Biggio all kind of fit the bill for the Red Schoendienst model.

  3. 3
    bstar says:

    This may help, JA. Here’s the Fangraphs career splits for LaRoche. They don’t give first/second half splits, but they do have monthly splits. Go down to Batted Ball profile, and you can maybe glean something from LaRoche’s LD% and GB/FB ratio. It looks like LaRoche is more of a flyball hitter in the second half, for whatever that’s worth.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statsplits.aspx?playerid=1904&position=1B&season=0

    • 11
      John Autin says:

      bstar, I appreciate the link, but unfortunately it’s not working for me. I am logged in to Fangraphs, but each of his Splits fields says only “No records to display.” Never mind — it works now.

      • 13
        bstar says:

        Wait…was all that canceled out typing for humorous effect to imply you even detest attempting to investigate the Fangraphs boards? If so, I chuckled.

  4. 4
    deal says:

    This isn’t going to help this disucssion at all but I have picked up more BP HR balls off of the bat of LaRoche then any other opposing player.

    Usually has a pretty good BP and hits all his HRs to the same place – just inside the RF pole.

  5. 14
    Jimbo says:

    I think the answer is almost obvious. It looks like he doesn’t work hard in the off-season, and isn’t ready to play the way he is capable of playing until the 2nd half. It could be something else, but that really looks like the most obvious answer.

    • 15
      Jimbo says:

      And my guess for players who have poor 2nd halfs consistently, is that they lose focus if their team isn’t contending, or just lack the toughness needed for a long season. Such players might do much better if MLB had a shorter season.

  6. 16

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this write-up and also the rest of the website is also very good.

  7. 17

    […] some of Werth’s surprise that LaRoche had never made an all-star team, though his tendency to start the season cold and finish hot hasn’t helped his chances most years. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at […]

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