Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 9/7/12

The Nationals’ plan to compete this year was a simple one: Trot out a rotation ballasted by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, and hope somebody besides Ryan Zimmerman hits the ball.

There was little reason to believe that somebody would be Adam LaRoche. At 32, LaRoche was coming off a season of 45 awful games: 151 plate appearances of .172/.288/.258 hitting. A torn labrum sidelined him for the final four months of the season, and some sort of back injury was a yearly occurrence. His best season came six years ago when he was still with the Braves, a 32-homer affair with a 127 wRC+, his only campaign over 120.

In between lied an unremarkable career. LaRoche mustered wRC+ marks between 103 and 118 from 2007-2010, either just below or just above the first base average. He has a long swing, one that inevitably leads to a bunch of strikeouts (at least 20% of plate appearances every year except 2005).

But the length of this swing also lofts the ball and does so with great force:

Your browser does not support iframes.

When LaRoche launches his next home run, he’ll reach 30 for the first time since 2006. His .270/.343/.511 mark is quite similar to his 2007 performance, a .272/.345/.500 effort for the Pirates. But the average hitter put up a .264/.333/.416 line in 2007; the average first baseman is hitting .263/.337/.444 in 2012.

And so for the first time since 2006, LaRoche finds himself an impact player. But he isn’t doing anything new. He’s still a predominantly pull hitter with great natural power, a predilection to the fly ball, but mediocre contact skills. This skilllset wasn’t particularly difficult to find in 2007, when the league slugged .423 and its first basemen slugged .463. But five years later, many of those players that defined the league with their power have fallen away, either retiring or declining. LaRoche’s .511 slugging percentage ranks him fourth among qualified first basemen, behind Edwin Encarnacion, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. In 2007, the same mark would have ranked ninth, just behind the ever-capable Mike Jacobs.

LaRoche isn’t doing much he hasn’t ever done before. He’s taken steps above his career averages in most statistics this season, but not by much:

In a league where everybody has taken a step back, LaRoche has made himself into an impact player by doing just what he always has. All of a sudden, his power has gone from expected to excellent at first base, and the Nationals have capitalized on that power as a key component of their 2012 playoff run.


GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Kings reportedly looking into viability of firing Karl

Jim Brown: I ‘encourage and support’ Johnny Manziel

Vincent criticizes NFLPA over spending millions on lawsuits

MLB urges Supreme Court to deny San Jose's A's appeal

Jeanie Buss: Phil Jackson loves the Twitter criticism

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Vikings RB McKinnon: If I had a fantasy team, I'd take myself

Report: Kings have had discussions with John Calipari

De’Andre Johnson charged with misdemeanor battery

Russell Wilson on salary: If it's $25M or $1.5M, I'll be ready to go

Luke Ridnour reportedly traded for fourth time in a week

Scottie Pippen: I was LeBron James before LeBron James

Fan who caught A-Rod’s 3,000th says he’s received threats

Diamondbacks are contenders, but team's direction is unclear

Selecting the 2015 American League All-Stars

Jim Harbaugh is recruiting a prospect he once babysat

Conan makes Marshawn's wildest dreams come true

Brett Favre dons Packers jersey, says, 'I think I could still play'

Bo Knows, Bo Goes: Wisconsin feels pride and pain

Popovich won't call free agents at midnight, he'll be in bed

Joe Buck explains why he quit Twitter

Should the White Sox and Indians become sellers?

Fan bases most deserving of a Super Bowl 50 win

2015 NBA Draft grades: Eastern Conference

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Selecting the 2015 AL All-Stars

NBA Draft grades: Eastern Conference

Under the radar NBA free agents

Michael Sam, boyfriend broke up?

Mickelson linked to money laundering?

Reminiscing on 'Love & Basketball' 15 years later

Selecting the 2015 NL All-Stars

The Sixers' latest horde

Projected landing spots for NBA's top free agents

MLB changes format for Home Run Derby

Revis to work out with Patriots DBs

Peterson: I'm still NFL's best RB

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.