Is there hope for Matt Laporta?

 

Matt LaPorta is still only 27 years old, but he’s already had over 1,000 plate appearances in the big leagues. So at what point do past failures prove more meaningful than the promise of youth?

Through his first three seasons LaPorta’s stat line reads more like a weak-hitting middle infielder than a corner infielder: .238 BA, .304 OBP, .397 Slug pct. In fact, only two others players in Tribe history have posted such a meager stat line through three seasons – both middle infielders from the turn of the century.

Rk Player Year BA SLG OBP PA From To
1 Matt LaPorta 2011 .238 .397 .304 1008 2009 2011
2 Bill Wambsganss 1916 .223 .267 .292 1133 1914 1916
3 John Gochnaur 1903 .185 .239 .256 1018 1902 1903

So is there any reason to hope for a sudden turnaround by LaPorta? Or is has he already cemented himself as the next John Gochnaur?

To answer this, let’s look at how LaPorta stacks up against some similar prospects in recent years.

Among corner infielders and/or corner outfielders to debut in the last 25 years, six players (excluding LaPorta) have posted an OBP < .310 and a Slug Pct < .400 with a minimum of 1,000 plate appearances through their age-26 season.

Given such a modest stat line, in order to stay on the field these players needed to be top prospects (in most cases). Like the Indians with LaPorta, teams wanted to see what these guys could do at the major league level, and were willing to wait out their struggles – to a point.

Rk Player Year SLG OBP From PA From To Age
1 Matt LaPorta 2011 .397 .304 2009 1008 2009 2011 24-26
2 Andy LaRoche 2010 .338 .304 2007 1228 2007 2010 23-26
3 Jose Guillen 2002 .398 .305 1997 2202 1997 2002 21-26
4 Marc Newfield 1998 .375 .303 1993 1051 1993 1998 20-25
5 Eric Anthony 1994 .384 .296 1989 1789 1989 1994 21-26
6 Carlos Martinez 1992 .369 .294 1988 1233 1988 1992 22-26
7 Charlie Hayes 1991 .361 .276 1988 1408 1988 1991 23-26

The most recent guy on the list, Andy LaRoche, is now in the Tribe system and will complete with LaPorta for a roster spot this spring (won’t that be exciting to watch). And given the fact that he is just one year removed from this list, he offers little insight into LaPorta’s future. From 2005 through 2008, LaRoche was ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, peaking at No. 19 in 2006 and 2007. But he has never been able to stick at the major league level, despite opportunities with three different franchises. Last season in Oakland, LaRoche appeared in 40 games, with a slightly improved OBP of .320, but failed to show the power necessary to play the corners at the major league level.

Prior to LaRoche there was Jose Guillen, who is perhaps the most encouraging name on this list. While Guillen struggled early in his career, his age-27 season was his breakout campaign. Splitting the year between the Reds and A’s, Guillen hit .311 with a career-high 31 home runs. Over the remaining years of his career, Guillen would post an OBP of .330 with a respectable .462 Slug pct.

But before Guillen came Marc Newfield, the worst-case scenario for LaPorta. Coming up in the Mariners system, Newfield was a top-50 prospect every season from 1991 through 1995. However, Newfield managed just a .201 average in his days in Seattle and was traded to San Diego in 1995. In 1998, still only 25 years old, Newfield would be given his last chance, this time with the Brewers. He would bounce around the minors with the A’s and Red Sox organizations, but never reached the majors again.

Eric Anthony is perhaps the best statistical comparison to LaPorta. Anthony began the 1990 season as the 8th-ranked prospect but struggled so mightily (10 HR, .192 BA, .297 OBP) that he was off the list all together in 1991. By 1992 the Astros were determined to play their former top prospect every day, and he struggled for two years before being traded to Seattle for Mike Hampton in 1994. While Anthony did show improvement – .344 OBP in remaining years of his career – his inconsistency was too much for teams to handle. After leaving Seattle at the end of his age-26 season he bounced from Cincinati to Colorado to Los Angeles and was out of the majors before the age of 30.

And now for our hometown example, the late Carlos Martinez (also known as the guy who hit a home run of Jose Canseco‘s head). Prior to joining the Tribe, Martinez was a promising young third baseman in the White Sox organization. In just over 100 games in 1989 he hit .300. And when Robin Venteura reached the majors in 1990, they shifted Martinez to first base, where he started until a young rookie by the name of Frank Thomas took over in mid July. While it was hard to ignore Thomas’ promise, it was equally tough for the White Sox to ignore Martinez’s .252 OBP. The Indians signed him that offseason, and in the following two seasons he would post a dismal .298 OBP, while hitting just 10 home runs in 141 games. He remained in Cleveland for his age-27 season, but showed no improvement with a .295 OBP in 80 games. He was out of baseball before the age of 30.

The final name on our list is Charlie Hayes, who began his career with San Francisco in 1988 but was traded to Philadelphia the following season. In his age-25 and 26 seasons, Hayes was the Phillies every-day third basemen and, for inexplicable reasons, played in 294 games during that span, in which his .277 OBP made LaPorta look like a young Jim Thome. But as bad as Hayes was early in his career, he turned it around, with some help from the thin Colorado air. At age 28 in 1993, Hayes belted 25 home runs in Colorado, with a .355 OBP. But he wasn’t purely a product of the Rockies ballpark. Hayes also posted three non-Colorado seasons with an OPS over .725.

So… what’s does all this tell us about LaPorta?

While the results vary dramatically, on average, these players did show some improvement. Their collective OBP rose to .318 in their age-27 season, and then spiked above .340 in both their age-28 and age-29 season. However, it should be noted that while some short-term improvement was apparent, only Guillen and Hayes sustained their careers into their 30s.

So while LaPorta may have a long career left ahead, if he doesn’t turn it around quickly, the clock is ticking.

Advertisements

Indians 19, Royals 1

A game like this is a blogger’s dream, so without further ado let’s dive into the great stats…

  • The Tribe scored 19+ runs for the sixth time in the Jacobs Field era. Each of the last three games, prior to last night’s, were against the Yankees.
  • It was the first time the Indians scored 19+ runs with the help of just one homer since a 19-9 win in 1977 against the Red Sox. Jim Norris provided the lone long ball that day.
  • The Indians had four players with 3+ RBI for just the 10th time in the past 90 seasons. The record is five players, accomplished in 2004 and 1928 – both against the Yankees.
  • Matt LaPorta was the first Indians No. 8 hitter to reach base five times in a game since Einar Diaz in 2000 against the Blue Jays. He is also the first No. 8 hitter to reach base five times and drive in four runs since Rusty Torres in 1973 against the Twins.
  • Carlos Santana became the first Indians catcher with three walks and a stolen base in a game since Alan Ashby in 1975 against the A’s. He also became the first Tribe cleanup hitter to do so since Mel Hall in 1988 against the White Sox.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN), Royals reliever Vin Mazzaro became the first pitcher in baseball history to allow 14 runs in fewer than three innings of work.
  • The Royals tied a franchise record by allowing four Indians to drive in at least four runs.

An encouraging sign for Matt LaPorta

In 2010 Matt LaPorta looked more and more like a bust every day, and his .239 BA through 15 games this season isn’t exactly doing a lot to change that.

Patience is key for LaPorta

However, there is one stat that could serve as an encouraging sign.

LaPorta appears to be more patient at the plate this season, which is certainly what you want to see from a potential middle-of-the-order hitter. His OBP of .345 this season is 35 points higher than his career average. And a part of the reason for that may be his ability to fight back once he falls behind in the count.

LaPorta has seen a first-pitch strike 19 times this season. In those plate appearances he has as many strikeouts as hits (four apiece). However, he also has drawn three walks – good for a .368 OBP after a 0-1 count. In 2010, LaPorta had just a .255 OBP after falling behind 0-1.

Clearly it’s a small sample size, but I’ll take what I can get from LaPorta. Any sign of life is a good thing.

Walk-offs vs former Indians

On Monday Matt LaPorta singled up the middle off A’s reliever (and former Indian) Craig Breslow to give the Indians the walk-off victory.

That got me thinking. How often have the Indians had a walk-off against a former Indian?

I suspected it hadn’t happened often, so naturally I was surprised to go back to 2007 and see that it had happened three times in that year alone.

It’s happened 11 times in the Jacobs Field era, and seven times since 2004.

Three of the hits have been home runs, the most memorable of which came in 1995 when Manny Ramirez‘s walk-off prompted Dennis Eckersley to yell “WOW” as he walked off the field.

LaPorta homers in 3 straight

Matt LaPorta found his swing in Columbus. Or at least his home run swing.

Since being recalled on on June 27, LaPorta is 5-17 in five games. Three of his five hits have been home runs – one each in his last three games.

A three-game home run streak is nothing unusual, Jhonny Peralta, Mark DeRosa and Travis Hafner each had one last year. But a streak in which the only hits are home runs is a little more rare.

Over the last 50 seasons only seven different Indians, not including LaPorta, had a home run streak of at least three games in which their only hits were homers. LaPorta’s streak is the first since Hafner in 2005. The king of the all-or-nothing streak is, of course, Jim Thome.