One could make a case for others, but first baseman Adam LaRoche is the 2012 Washington Nationals Most Valuable Player.
LaRoche put together one of the best seasons offensively in Nationals history. Among starters who played 100 games he was the most productive hitter batting .271 with 33 home runs and 100 runs batted in. LaRoche gave Washington a power hitter to build their lineup around for the first time. In the early months of the season he picked up the slack when outfielder Michael Morse and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman were out with injuries.
LaRoche was every bit as valuable to the Nationals on defense. Washington has not had a good first baseman since Nick Johnson in 2009. Before LaRoche, Adam Dunn manned the position on 2010. When LaRoche missed most of 2011 with a shoulder injury Morse played first. Dunn was not a good fielder and only played, because of his bat. Morse did well enough that he would have remained at first if LaRoche did not come back strong this season.
Neither is the glove man that LaRoche is. The slick fielding lefty made only seven errors in 2012. He finished with a fielding percentage of .995. These numbers are impressive, but do not indicate LaRoche’s true worth.
What LaRoche did for the Washington infield was get them a ton of outs by picking errant throws by his teammates. When Zimmerman was struggling with his throws to first, LaRoche bailed him out by snagging tosses that were low or high and wide. When shortstop Ian Desmond skipped a throw in the dirt, LaRoche picked it cleanly. LaRoche did this consistently from the first game of the season to the last.
Off the field and in the clubhouse, LaRoche was the veteran leader the Nationals needed. He is the oldest and most experienced member of the team. LaRoche has more regular season and playoff experience than most of the Washington team combined. He knows how to handle the ups and downs of pro baseball.
It was LaRoche who was one of the players that took rookie outfielder Bryce Harper under his wing. He helped to take some of the pressure off of Harper by playing a joke on Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. When Guillen accused Harper of having too much pine tar on his bat LaRoche sent the Miami manager a bat signed by the rookie as a joke.
LaRoche had to stay on an even keel when the season started. Though he was penciled in as the starting first baseman there was still a chance of Morse regaining the position if LaRoche failed. By the end of April it was obvious that Morse would be moving back to the outfield. LaRoche was batting .329 at the end of the month and only an injury was going to knock him out of the lineup.
Behind LaRoche’s bat and glove, the Nationals had their most successful season winning 98 games. They won the NL East and made their first post season appearance since arriving in 2005.
There were many players who contributed to Washington’s success, but none more than LaRoche.
He is the choice here for team MVP.