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Eulogizing The 2007 Mets: Paul Lo Duca

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the problems with Paul Lo Duca as a hitter than the juxtaposition of his 2006 and 2007 seasons. Some numbers:

2006 4.5% 7.4% .109 21.4% .337
2007 5.1% 7.4% .106 23.3% .278

Based on those first four columns one might reasonably conclude that Lo Duca had very similar seasons in '06 and '07. He drew walks at approximately the same rate, struck out with the same frequency, hit for the same amount of power and hit the same percentage of line drives. Rebutting that argument is the fifth column, representing the frequency with which Lo Duca's balls in play became hits. League average is around .300, and almost every player will post BABIP marks within shouting distance of that mark. Lo Duca's career BABIP is .297; in 2006, a terrific year for him offensively, his BABIP was .337, more than 10% higher than his career norm. That's great, except that it is almost always indicative of a harsh drop off to come. Said drop off occurred like clockwork in 2007, as Lo Duca saw his BABIP fall to .278.

The result of the BABIP regression was a 46 point drop in batting average (.318 to .272), which accounts for virtually the entire difference between Lo Duca's 2006 OPS (.783) and his 2007 OPS (.689). His power and discipline numbers were largely unchanged, so it becomes clear that as Lo Duca's batting average goes, so does his overall production. The good news is that some improvement could be expected in 2008, as Lo Duca's BABIP was a bit below average. The bad news is that he would still only be projected to hit .290/.320/.420. Considering that he will be 36 next season that projection might be optimistic. If he doesn't hit .290 then his OBP and SLG would drop accordingly.

Defensively, Lo Duca is not very good. His throwing arm is weak and inaccurate, and his receiving skills are maybe average (this is just what I see; I don't have any hard data to back this up; he just looks so-so receiving throws and blocking the plate). Do pitchers like throwing to him? I have no idea. Pitchers will tell you that this makes a big difference, but historically CERA (catcher's ERA) doesn't really bear this out.

Though the idea was kicked around a bunch on this site last year, I would still like to see Ramon Castro given a shot on a full-time basis. Unfortunately, the Mets will have to resign him for that to happen. Castro is a free agent this offseason and, given the dearth of promising catchers around the league, he will likely cost the Mets a pretty penny to retain ($5-$6 million a year or more, I'm guessing). Thanks to Omar Minaya's gaffe last offseason that left Jesus Flores unprotected in the Rule 5 draft (plucked by the Expos), the Mets' farm system doesn't have any impressive catchers ready for immediate deployment.

Lo Duca made $12.5 million over the past two seasons and he will be looking for that or more over the next two-plus years and he probably isn't worth that money. Though, his September performance was encouraging; he hit .291/.309/.488 in 98 plate appearances (.256 BABIP). I think the Mets will talk to him about a return, but they might be better off trying to get younger at the position (or going for broke by luring Jorge Posada away from the Yankees). At all events, catcher is one of their biggest question marks heading into the offseason and it might take some clever maneuvering by Omar Minaya to come up with a viable, championship-caliber solution for 2008.