There are plenty of people out there who think it’s time to fire Robin Ventura. I think that fans’ expectation going into this season were higher than they should have been. But with every passing day I think Robin Ventura deserves to be fired more and more for the simple reason that he continues to play Adam LaRoche. Using LaRoche has a pinch hitter for Trayce Thompson in Wednesday night’s game was ridiculous. LaRoche hit a solid fly ball to center field on the first pitch, but Thompson has been hitting really well since coming up.
LaRoche has been awful.
There are 156 major league hitters who have qualified for the batting title so far this season, LaRoche is ranked 151st of those players in fWAR. There are a bunch of notable names after him: Starlin Castro, Billy Butler and both of Boston’s big free agent signings Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. In Ramirez’s defense he has been horrendous on defense. Just because LaRoche isn’t the only recognizable name at the bottom of the list doesn’t make it OK.
Looking just at the White Sox, and shifting to wRC+ (which is a number that tries to look just at how offensively productive a player is relative to the league average, which is exactly 100) things don’t get better. To put wRC+ in perspective, Jose Abreu is at 134, which is 34% better than league average. LaRoche is at 82. He is far from the worst on the team, in fact he is right in the middle. But the guys below him are either gone (Micah Johnson and Conor Gillaspie) or at least add some positive defensive value (Sanchez, Beckham, Saladino, Ramirez and Flowers).
The worst part about LaRoche is that he has only gotten worse as the season has progressed. Looking back at his wRC+, his number dropped all the way to 15 (!!!) during the month of July. This means he was 85% worse than league average. The awful Brent Morel got 125 plate appearances in 2012 and he has a wRC+ of 11, just to put this month into perspective. Gordon Beckham got 400 plate appearances last season and was worse offensively, and he actually wasn’t very good on defense last season. They cut him off at 402 PA. Paul Konerko got 520 PA in 2013 with a season long wRC+ of 84. But let’s be serious, PK earned every PA he got late in his career. Assuming LaRoche gets to 500 PA without getting much above the 82 wRC+ he is at now, you have to go back to  when Alexei Ramirez (72) and Gordon Beckham (80) had a lower wRC+ with at least 500 PA, and of course both of them played well above average defense that season, especially Ramirez. In the three seasons that Dayan Viciedo got significant playing time he never finished below 90 wRC+.
That is how bad LaRoche has been.
Playing bad isn’t enough to cost Ventura his job. He isn’t the one swinging the bat. But he is the one making the lineup. Therein lies the problem. Especially since in limited playing time Geovany Soto has been raking. He has the highest walk rate, 3rd in OPS, 2nd in ISO, 3rd in wRC+ (one of those guys is 13 PA Trayce Thompson), tied for 5th in home runs (and remember he is 11th in PA). Can he keep any of this up? Probably not. But the numbers are insane compared to his career numbers. His walk rate is spot on, his BABIP is just a littler higher than his career total (meaning he hasn’t been abnormally lucky), his OBP is right on the mark and his slugging percentage isn’t ridiculously off. His HR/FB ratio is way off right now, and that means he probably won’t keep hitting this many home runs, but the bottom line is that nothing he is doing is that ridiculous. He is crushing left handed pitching (in a limited sample size), and we know LaRoche can’t hit lefties to save his life. The only reason Soto can’t start at DH is because then there is no backup catcher.
The problem with the White Sox, like so many AL teams, is that they only carry 4 bench players. Assuming one of these is LaRoche, and one is another catcher (just anyone just in case Flowers get’s hurt), that leaves just two spots for Beckham, Leury Garcia and Trayce Thompson. Thompson is playing well enough to get regular playing time, and with him they could even rotate any of the other OFs to DH as well. Garcia offers the ability to play IF or OF, so he might be too valuable.
That means the only option is to get rid of a pitcher, which they probably can’t afford to do. Or they need to find a reason to put LaRoche on the DL (I am assuming they can’t send him to the minors without him being able to refuse the assignment and still get paid). But the guy has 15 hits in the last 30 days!!! The equally bad at the plate Tyler Flowers as 13, but in 17 less PA. Oh, and Flowers is an above average defensive catcher (very underrated). LaRoche isn’t even walking. He has less than Alexei Ramirez, who is historically awful at walking. He does have one whole home run though, as many as Trayce Thompson does in his first 13 Major League plate appearances. Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino and Adam Eaton each have three over that time. Did I mention Soto has 4 in just 32 plate appearances.
LaRoche should not be playing. The White Sox are in striking distance of a playoff berth. Between Soto and Thompson there is no reason LaRoche should be playing at all. And if he does he should never be hitting against lefties. If the Sox just miss the playoffs, and LaRoche hits 500 plate appearances Ventura does deserve to get fired.