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Catch a Rising Starter
2004-02-22 21:53
by Jon Weisman

The news from is that until a trade for a hitter is completed, Plan A for the Dodger offense is to move Shawn Green to first base, Paul Lo Duca to left field and Dave Ross into the starting lineup at catcher.

Implied, but not stated, is that Juan Encarnacion would play right field and that Robin Ventura would start the season on the bench.

On one level, this may not be worth analyzing. Although Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta said that a trade is not imminent, it doesn't mean a trade isn't going to come.

On the other hand, what guarantee is there that DePodesta will find a trade worth making between now and April 5?

So what of this scenario?

Well, most of us know that Lo Duca's offensive value declines considerably if he's moved from catcher, where offense is rare across major league baseball, to left field, where outside of Los Angeles, people expect their outfielders to hit. Lo Duca had a below-average EQA of .257 last season, passable for a catcher but a figure that would place him 20th among major league left fielders with a qualifying 502 plate appearances.

Arguably, getting Lo Duca out of a three-hour crouch will help his numbers, and he might have one more career surge left, so the move to left might not be disastrous.

But that really isn't even the question, is it? In this case, it's whether Ross is a better choice to start than Ventura.

As it happens, Ross had about the same number of plate appearances (139) in 2003 as Ventura did as a Dodger (127). Ross had an EQA of .301 to Ventura's .269, hitting 10 home runs and seven doubles to Ventura's five and five. At age 26, Ross is also ascending, theoretically, while Ventura is 10 years older and presumably on the descent.

In Ventura's favor would be his superior command of the strike zone. He walked 18 times while striking out 25, while Ross was at 13 and 42. But that doesn't negate the power advantage that Ross seems to provide.

The X-factor is the fluke factor. It's a mystery how much of Ross' prowess was legit and how easily might he be solved as pitchers get to know him and as he piles up his own crouch fatigue. But in this case, the Dodgers are right to explore the potential of Ross over the fading ability of Ventura.

With all due respect to Ross, though, the Dodgers had better hope that better options than Lo Duca-to-left materialize.

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