Adam LaRoche career indicates an odd performance pattern in one area. The table below reports his seasonal tOPS+, which measures how well LaRoche did in each half relative to his performance that year.
tOPS+ Year 1st Half 2nd Half 2004 85 113 2005 109 71 2006 77 126 2007 90 113 2008 84 128 2009 83 126
In five of the six years that he has played in the majors, he’s hit better in the first half than he did in the second half. This fact has not gone unnoticed by broadcasters.
I do not think that LaRoche can be counted on to repeat this pattern. In Curve Ball, statisticians Albert and Bennett look at the ability of players to repeat half-season splits and they conclude: “Players don’t generally hit any better or worse in the last half of the season than the first half of the season.” Now, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of a few players having this ability, but I think it is unlikely. I suspect that Adam’s performance represents a run in a small sample that is likely noise.
But, what if Adam is a second-half player, and a team wants him to play more like second-half Adam in the first half? How might a team structure a contract to give LaRoche the incentive to do the things he needs to do (e.g., get in shape, practice, take his medication regularly, etc.) to generate higher production. I have a simple solution: offer a big All-Star bonus. Players with strong first halves have an advantage at making the All-Star team over second-half players. Many players have All-Star bonuses in their contracts in small amounts, a few thousands dollars or so. If a full-year of second-half LaRoche is worth an additional $2 million, offer him a $2 million bonus for making the team. If he can fix the problem, it will likely be fixed. If not, you get the same LaRoche as always without having to pay the bonus.