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Next Week, Darren Dreifort Ponders a Move to Third Base
2003-10-22 09:18
by Jon Weisman

Ken Gurnick at writes, "According to Evans, decisions have not been made on position switches for Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca, and he has not discussed the subject with either player."

Were we discussing switching Paul Lo Duca's position? Has Position Switch Fever struck an unimmunized team?

Lo Duca, of course, has shown that he can play first base and left field. He has also shown that his offensive performance tails off in the second half of a given season, the reason for this generally assumed to be the proverbial wear and tear of playing catcher. (Wear and tear being proverbial because really, who needs the tear when you've got the wear?)

But how much offensive value does Lo Duca have when he isn't playing catcher, relative to the rest of the league?

One of the most curious things I came across in researching Dodger win shares this week was that Cesar Izturis did not lead the team in fielding win shares. Rather, it was Lo Duca, who generated more defensive win shares (10) than offensive win shares (9) in compiling 19 total.

Win shares are not gospel, but they do help you realize how much a player's position affects his value. Lo Duca was fifth in the National League in offensive win shares for a catcher. As a first baseman, he would have been 13th.

Want to see it another way? According to Baseball Prospectus, Lo Duca, who posted a .257 EQA, tied for 12th among major league catchers with at least 250 plate appearances in 2003. Move Lo Duca to left field, and he falls to 29th. Move him to first base, and he falls to 30th.

So okay, Lo Duca's offense almost certainly will improve without shin guards on for half the game. Move Moises Alou behind the plate and see how well he does, right?

Fair enough. But how much? The Dodgers cannot afford a single-digit home run hitter in the outfield - they can't really afford one in the teens. If you're going to move Lo Duca to a power position, he had better regain the form that brought him 25 home runs in 2001. If not, you'd better get those home runs from Dave Ross and Todd Hundley.

It makes sense to rest Lo Duca more during the season, and activate the power potential of Ross and yes, even Hundley. And sure, one can see putting Lo Duca and Ross in the lineup together on some days. Make no mistake, Lo Duca's versatility is an asset, and the Dodgers' depth at catcher is an asset.

But Lo Duca as a full-time non-catcher? Not unless you've solved a mess of other lineup problems first. This sounds like the kind of conversation you ponder having (remember - Evans hasn't had it yet) while waiting for your big transactions to unfold. Or, while waiting to see if you get fired.

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