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No Rumors - Just Some Lo Duca Thoughts
2004-07-30 09:06
by Jon Weisman

A Dodger trade? Nobody knows. Or maybe somebody knows, but nobody knows which somebody knows.

So no, I won't be talking about any trade rumors. But I will talk about Paul Lo Duca.

Beginning dispassionately ....

At age 32, Lo Duca is having the second-best season of his career. In Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and in Win Shares, Lo Duca ranks among the top 10 catchers in baseball.

Top 2004 Catchers
WS VORP Player
16 49.3 Ivan Rodriguez
13 41.6 Victor Martinez
13 34.3 Jorge Posada
13 29.5 Johnny Estrada
13 23.5 Jason Kendall
12 23.8 Michael Barrett
12 22.2 Paul Lo Duca
11 16.4 A.J. Pierzynski
9 40.7 Javy Lopez
9 19.8 Jason Varitek

Without needing to resort to intangibles like grit and team chemistry, Lo Duca is a valuable catcher, and the obvious question is where would the Dodgers find a replacement for him, were they to trade him away.

The less obvious question is: How important is this valuable catcher to the Dodgers? Is Lo Duca Park Place or Baltic Avenue?

Top 2004 Dodgers
19 9 52.0 Adrian Beltre
15 4 21.3 Cesar Izturis
12 3 24.8 Milton Bradley
12 4 18.0 Alex Cora
12 2 22.2 Paul Lo Duca
10 5 ---- Eric Gagne
9 2 9.0 Dave Roberts
8 4 ---- Guillermo Mota
8 3 ---- Odalis Perez
8 -1 0.7 Juan Encarnacion
8 -3 17.5 Shawn Green
5 2 15.2 Jose Hernandez
5 2 11.1 Jayson Werth
(WSAA = Win Shares Above Average, that is, Win Shares above what an average player would have produced with the same playing time at his position.)

Lo Duca has been one of the five most valuable Dodgers this season. His shoes would be arguably harder to fill than Eric Gagne's. The difference between Gagne and an average reliever is greater than the difference between Lo Duca and an average catcher, but because of the vast difference in playing time, Lo Duca still has had more positive statistical impact on the team than Gagne has.

And yet, there are reasons one might consider trading Lo Duca.

1) A belief that his production will tail off in the season's final two months. Since 2001, Lo Duca's OPS in August and September is .652, compared to an April-July average in that time of .841.

2) A belief that at age 32, this is Lo Duca's last hurrah as a catcher. He is at the age where catchers often have to move to other positions - and at another position, Lo Duca's value would drop considerably.

3) A belief that an adequate or superior replacement exists, either at catcher or another position.

A belief, in other words, that Lo Duca is at his peak, that it is all downhill from here, and that another player could better serve the Dodgers from August 1 on.

Would the Dodgers be better off, for example, to exchange Lo Duca for a starting pitcher who is performing well? Let's look at the current Dodger starters.

2004 Dodger Starting Pitchers
WS WSAA Player
8 3 Odalis Perez
5 1 Wilson Alvarez
5 1 Jose Lima
5 0 Kazuhisa Ishii
5 -1 Jeff Weaver
1 1 Edwin Jackson
-4 -8 Hideo Nomo

By comparison, Florida starting pitcher Carl Pavano, as a hypothetical, has 11 win shares this season and five WSAA - equivalent to, if not better than, Lo Duca's numbers.

Adding Pavano to the Dodger rotation in place of Alvarez, Lima or Ishii (Weaver being entrenched) would give the Dodgers a pitcher heading into the final two months with a resume of six more win shares and four more WSAA this season. Pro-rated over the final third of the season, that would mean three win shares and two WSAA.

There is not very much of a margin there. Would that compensate for the Dodgers' dropoff at catcher? Would the drop between Lo Duca and his replacement be less than the gain from Pavano? Perhaps, if Lo Duca is facing his annual decline over the final two months. Perhaps not, if this is the year Lo Duca maintains his averages.

If the Dodgers are going to trade Paul Lo Duca, there probably is not a better time to do it than this week. But in trading Lo Duca, you risk missing out on the conclusion to a very valuable season. There are unequivocally players worth trading Lo Duca for, but the improvement should be clear-cut, not speculative.

In the end, I just want to say that Paul Lo Duca has been one of the most important Dodgers this season, and I have ignored giving him that credit for too long.

Update: If it's rumor analysis you want after all, you won't do any better this morning than John's Dodger Blog.

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