Over the course of the 2013 season, Adam LaRoche lost around 15 pounds and was left playing at a weight he hadn’t been measured at since high school.
The medicine that LaRoche took to combat his attention deficit disorder (ADD) sapped his appetite and left him down in the low-190 lb. range, as compared to the 205-210 lbs. at which he typically plays. A couple of months into the season, Nationals teammates started noticing the difference in LaRoche’s frame, and it’s around that time that LaRoche - a traditionally slow starter - usually tends to pick up his offensive production.
But that offensive jolt never came this season.
After a dynamite 2012 campaign in which he hit to a slash line of .271/.343/.510 with 33 homers and 100 RBIs, LaRoche batted a lowly .237/.332/.403 with 20 homers and 62 RBIs this season. LaRoche hit a miniscule .136 through April, but appeared at times to be getting on track. He boosted the average to .261 late in June, but even then, the power was lacking. And as the season went on, the numbers only dropped. Outside of his injury-ravaged 2011 season, LaRoche’s OPS this season (.735) was the lowest of his career by a whopping 40 points.
Still, LaRoche doesn’t blame his subpar season on his weight loss. The same guy who was shrugged off praise after winning a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove last year takes full ownership of his struggles this season.
“I’m not putting any of it on health or weight,” LaRoche said prior to the Nats’ season finale Sunday. “I think the biggest difference weight’s gonna make, for me, is maybe just not get the carry (on the ball) with a few extra pounds. So, as far as average goes, production, driving in runs, the strikeouts - that’s all on me.
“It was one of those years where when it did come together, it was like a lot of 1-for-3s or 0-for-2s with a couple walks. Throughout the stretches where I was feeling good - where typically you’ll hit .500 over a couple weeks, .400 over three weeks or something - my hot streaks were just kind of short and relatively flat, compared to what they normally are.
“There (were) times where I’m seeing the ball really good and maybe get one base hit, line out to a guy, hit the ball good in the gap and it gets run down, 1-for-3. So my personal season pretty much mimicked our team season as far as, just could not put a finger on it. You try everything, you try everything and it still doesn’t click, is about what I did individually. Just one of those years.”
Eventually, LaRoche was able to figure out a way to curtail the weight loss - drinking protein shakes throughout the day and avoiding batting practice on the field when the weather got especially hot. It allowed LaRoche to put a few pounds back on and provided a road map of sorts for how he can try and prevent the same issue in the future.
“Last year, that wasn’t a huge problem,” LaRoche said. “For whatever reason, I don’t know if it was a different medication or temperatures were different, I kept (the weight) on a lot better last year than this year. Just shedded it up until the All-Star break. ... Just got down too low. So just make a conscious effort this offseason and next year to put it on and keep it on.”
There have been and will continue to be questions about whether LaRoche can bounce back in 2014 after a season to forget this year. He’ll turn 34 in about a month, and at least according to the traditional baseball age projections, time isn’t on his side.
In 2014, LaRoche will be in the second year of a two-year, $24 million deal he signed last winter (which also features a $15 million mutual option for 2015). Some have wondered whether the Nats could look to trade LaRoche this offseason, opening up a spot to try and add another impact bat, but LaRoche’s contract plus his lack of production this season won’t leave many teams beating down the Nats’ door in trade talks.
Regardless, LaRoche says he’ll enter this upcoming season as confident as ever, even after his rough 2013. After all, he’ll still be just a season removed from a career year, but beyond that, he’s wired to shrug off disappointing times just like he is positive ones.
“I think we’re kinda trained to think that way and almost convince yourself of that,” LaRoche said. “We do it every night. I’ll take an 0-for-5 and if I’m worried about that the next day, then that’s a problem. And if that continues on, those are the guys that don’t last very long. So, yeah, regardless of this year, I’ll put on some weight, as much as I can, and try to come (into camp) a little heavier and then work hard to keep it on and do whatever I can to keep it on the first couple months. ...
“The confidence is there. I know what I can do. I’ve done it enough to where I know it’s not gonna just disappear overnight. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”