2012 in Review: Matt LaPorta

Jason Miller

Matt LaPorta was the crown jewel the Indians got back when the Indians chose to deal CC Sabathia away in 2008, rather than watching him walk away as a free agent when the season ended, and getting nothing in return. It’s been more than four years since then, yet LaPorta is yet to spend a full season in the Majors.

Bat: Right Throws: Right

2012 Age: 27

2012 bWAR: -0.4

2012 fWAR: -0.2

2012 Salary: ~$480,000

2013 Contract Status: Arbitration Eligible (1st Year)

There are no statistics, traditional or advanced, that you could point to as evidence LaPorta is a good base runner or fielder, and there was never really any expectation that he would be. LaPorta was expected to be a big power hitter whose value would come almost entirely from his bat.

In 2007, as a 22-year-old, LaPorta put up a 1.065 OPS in A-ball. In 2008, while in double-A his OPS was .924. That was the year the Indians acquired him, the idea being that by the middle of 2009 he’d be ready to take over at 1B in Cleveland and would hold down that position for years to come.

In 2009 he hit well in Columbus at the start of the season and was called up in the first week of May. He hit a home run in his second game but then struggled mightily and after putting up an OPS of just .571, he was sent back down at the end of the month. He hit well again on the farm, was called up again in August, and this time hit reasonably well, putting up a slash line of .273/.315/.489 in 149 PA.

In 2010 and 2011 he spent most of the season with the Indians, but never hit very well. He spent portions of each season back in triple-A, and always put up huge offensive numbers there, but it never carried over into strong production in the Majors.

Casey Kotchman was signed last offseason because the team had lost confidence in LaPorta’s ability to succeed at the big league level. Kotchman was a disaster, but LaPorta wasn’t really given an opportunity to do any better until late August. LaPorta had just 60 PA with Cleveland this season:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2012 CLE 22 60 58 2 14 2 0 1 5 0 0 1 17 .241 .267 .328 .594 68

A small sample, to be sure, but also even worse than his other disappointing stints with the Indians. Perhaps more notably, his minor league numbers were also the worst of his career:

Year Age Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2007 22 A,Rk 30 130 115 22 35 9 0 12 31 0 1 8 30 .304 .369 .696 1.065
2008 23 AA 101 433 362 62 101 24 2 22 74 2 1 49 75 .279 .386 .539 .924
2009 24 AAA 93 393 338 63 101 23 2 17 60 1 3 42 56 .299 .388 .530 .917
2010 25 AAA 18 81 69 7 25 4 0 5 16 0 1 12 10 .362 .457 .638 1.094
2011 26 AAA 2 9 9 2 4 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 1 .444 .444 .778 1.222
2012 27 AAA 101 434 375 56 99 19 1 19 62 0 3 44 81 .264 .350 .472 .822

LaPorta will be 28 in January, so it’s no longer accurate to consider him any sort of prospect. The best he’s ever hit in the Majors would qualify him as a viable option if he were a good fielding 2B or LF, but it’s not nearly good enough for 1B. Plus, his best production is further and further behind him. His 2012 hitting wouldn’t be good enough to play in the big leagues unless he played shortstop like Omar Vizquel in his prime.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2009 CLE 52 198 181 29 46 13 0 7 21 2 0 12 37 .254 .308 .442 .750 99
2010 CLE 110 425 376 41 83 15 1 12 41 0 0 46 82 .221 .306 .362 .668 87
2011 CLE 107 385 352 34 87 23 1 11 53 1 0 23 87 .247 .299 .412 .711 98
2012 CLE 22 60 58 2 14 2 0 1 5 0 0 1 17 .241 .267 .328 .594 68
4 Yrs 291 1068 967 106 230 53 2 31 120 3 0 82 223 .238 .301 .393 .694 92
162 Game Avg. 162 595 538 59 128 30 1 17 67 2 0 46 124 .238 .301 .393 .694 92

Matt LaPorta serves as a reminder that not every top prospect will develop into a good Major League player. It isn’t easy to cut the string with a player once so highly touted, but I think there’s enough evidence at this point to say it’s not going to happen for LaPorta. The case of Alex Gordon gives me pause, because after failing to live up to unfair "the next George Brett" expectations in Kansas City for years, he’s been a great player the last two seasons, he was 27 before things clicked for him. Gordon had better numbers than LaPorta in his down years though, and turnarounds like his are not to be expected.

Place in the Indians’ 2013 Plans: LaPorta is out of minor league options, which I believe means he either makes the Major League roster or is waived. I don't think he's good enough to make the Major League roster (especially given that he underwent hip surgery yesterday and will be out for 3-4 months), so I suppose that means he'll be waived. I wouldn't be surprised if he clears waivers and signs a minor league deal with the Tribe and return to Columbus.

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