Nick Piecoro covers the Diamondbacks for the Arizona Republic and saw first-hand last season what kind of player Adam LaRoche is and how he set the bar very high at first base for his team.
Piecoro witnessed a transition in Arizona at first base that the Nationals are embarking on today. He says Nats fans will see a big difference defensively between Adam Dunn and LaRoche.
"At one point, Adam Dunn was here in Arizona, then Conor Jackson and Chad Tracy were converted first basemen," Piecoro continued. "So for LaRoche to follow them, it was night and day. LaRoche was so natural and so smooth over there. We hadn't seen a whole lot of that out of first basemen in Arizona."
LaRoche smacked 25 homers for third consecutive season, and pounded out a career-high 100 RBIs for the Diamondbacks in 2010.
"When I think back to LaRoche's time with the Diamondbacks, I will think solid," Piecoro said. "The Diamondbacks hadn't had a whole lot of production out of first base in recent years. LaRoche kind of brought solid all-around play, both offensively and defensively. You knew what you were going to get out of him."
Piecoro saw LaRoche as dependable and reliable at first base. LaRoche will save a lot of plays at first by scooping balls out of the dirt.
"I don't think he is a Gold Glove first basemen," Piecoro said. "You mentioned scooping balls out of the dirt. I think he was a big reason why Mark Reynolds' errors decreased pretty significantly from 2009 to 2010. That is the thing I noticed first about his defense is how good he is at saving his fielders errors over there.
"He is sure handed. I don't think he has great range. I don't think he is going to make a ton of diving stops, but he is just sure handed and dependable over there."
Piecoro says the Diamondbacks decided they would not pick up the $7.5 million option on LaRoche's contract as they tried to revamp and rebuild.
"There were several things working against him staying in Arizona," Piecoro said. "This team has lost a lot of games over the years and I think they were looking to get a little cheaper. I don't think that spending that kind of money was an option at this point with all the other holes they have on the team."
The Diamondbacks also wanted to cut down on the team's overall strikeout total, and that wasn't going to happen with Reynolds and LaRoche on the same team.
"The Diamondbacks set an all-time record for strikeouts in a season," Piecoro said. "The team was looking to get those totals down any way they could. That included trading Mark Reynolds (to Baltimore) and letting LaRoche go."
What about LaRoche as a notorious slow starter? Piecoro noted LaRoche did very well to begin 2010, bucking that career trend.
"Oh, yes, he is aware of it," Piecoro said. "Actually, in 2010, he got off to a really good start. What he didn't do this year was have his typical second half surge, which was kind of unusual. His April and May were really strong. He had a good August. He didn't have that classic first half/second half split. He was a lot more dependable, a lot more steady from start to finish."
Piecoro said LaRoche tried beginning his workouts and hitting earlier in offseason - or a month or two before spring training. Finally, LaRoche came to a realization.
"He tried doing all sorts of things to become more consistent," Piecoro said. "I am not really sure he did anything different overall. He said, 'I am what I am.' But for whatever reason, he got off to a good start last year."
Is LaRoche a rah-rah clubhouse guy or a quiet type? Piecoro said he is a leader by example and very respected by his teammates.
"The Diamondbacks had a pretty young team last year, I would say young veterans," Piecoro said. "But they would automatically look to him for guidance. He has that confidence about him, that air to him."
Some fans in other cities felt LaRoche's methodical playing style wasn't quick enough or that it reflected his attitude on the diamond. Piecoro said LaRoche was just consistent about every day and every game.
"You have to be aware when you watch him play that he is not a high-energy guy," Piecoro said. "He is the kind of guy that is going to bring the same demeanor, day and day out."
"It was one of those things you heard a lot about him from Pittsburgh, a lot of fans got on him about because they thought he wasn't trying," Piecoro remembers. "I think fans in Atlanta did the same thing. I didn't hear a lot of that here in Arizona. Maybe people just understood what he was here. He has this way of carrying himself. He is just seems like a professional."