In his first season with the Mets in 2006, Paul Lo Duca batted .318 and made the National League All Star team for the fourth consecutive season. Lo Duca received a lot of credit for the Mets reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2000, even if the most positive reading had him as the sixth-best hitter on the team.
Lo Duca gets a lot of praise from fans and people in the media for several reasons. It’s apparent to all that Lo Duca cares. Anytime he is out in the field he is giving it everything he has and that is an admirable quality.
Many people still view batting average as one of the primary offensive statistics. And when a catcher hits .300 like Lo Duca did last season, it makes an impact. Lo Duca also earned a reputation for being selfless with his seven sacrifice hits and his willingness to take pitches for Jose Reyes to steal. He enhanced that reputation by hitting to the opposite field to allow Reyes to take third base.
Furthermore, Lo Duca is one of the top contact hitters in the game. He rarely strikes out and his average of one strikeout per 13.5 at-bats last season placed third in the National League.
And even with all of that going for him, Paul Lo Duca stinks.
Perhaps stinks is too strong of a word, but in a good season, and 2006 was a good season, Lo Duca is the type of guy who is an asset batting eighth in the lineup. Despite Buster Olney’s bleatings on the subject, productive outs do not make for a productive offense. Batting someone second because they make productive outs is a terrible waste of resources.
Well, what about his .300 average? Isn’t that someone worth batting second in the lineup? Lo Duca has to hit .300 to be useful. Because he has no power, no speed, he does not walk and he hits into a lot of double plays.
Let’s look at his batting average/on-base percentage/slugging for 2006 and through his first 115 games of the 2007 season.
2006 – .318/.355/.428
2007 – .276/.315/.385
His 42-point drop in batting average accounts for his drop in on-base percentage and slugging. Lo Duca’s value comes entirely from his batting average. This year Lo Duca is a below-average player in both on-base percentage and slugging, the two most important offensive categories in baseball.
When he has a career season like 2006, he becomes a valuable player. But it is never a good idea to count on someone having a career season. It is especially risky to count on a career year when the player is a 35-year old catcher.
Yet when the 2007 season opened, there was Lo Duca batting second. Even the Mets’ manager was buying the hype surrounding Lo Duca. The safest thing to do is to put a contact hitter in the second slot in the order because the fans and media will never second guess you for that decision.
But even Willie Randolph woke up and smelled the coffee burning under his nose and realized that Lo Duca batting second was not a good idea.
Despite his woeful hitting, Lo Duca remains a valuable player in the mind of the media. There’s the aforementioned hustle but the biggest reason for his popularity is his willingness to give a good quote after both wins and losses. In a way, it is hard to blame the media for liking a guy who makes their job easier. But it does not mean regular fans have to like him, too.
Michael Geffner of the Times Herald-Record wrote an article entitled: Lo Duca speaks truth about Mets’ late-season woes in which he praises Lo Duca for his efforts and by extension slams the other Mets for not caring as much as their catcher does. Geffner offered this quote from Lo Duca:
“I’ve been like a broken record,” he said. “I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t even know if I’m getting through to these guys, but I just want them to know that this is real.”
Geffner went on to say, “If only the Mets had a roster full of Lo Ducas, instead of being intent on getting rid of the only one they have, maybe then they’d have clinched the division by now and not holding on for dear life.”
Perhaps this might have had more of an impact if it wasn’t produced on the day after Lo Duca ended a six-run ninth inning comeback that ended a run short by popping out with the tying run on third base.
Maybe it would have more impact if Moises Alou, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado were not giving just as much as Lo Duca, being more productive in the process and all while nursing far more serious injuries.
Maybe it would have more impact if David Wright wasn’t following up his magnificent August with an almost equally strong September, trying his best to earn the team’s first MVP Award.
Maybe it would have more impact if it showed what Lo Duca was doing to help right the struggling pitching staff. One would hope the starting catcher might take some responsibility or offer suggestions on improving the club’s 5.13 September ERA. This marks the fifth consecutive month the staff ERA has risen from the previous month. Might the starting catcher have something to do with that?
So what are you to do as a member of the media if one of your most reliable sources on the team is having a poor year statistically? Why, you praise him for things that cannot be measured. And you exaggerate the importance of these things on the team’s won-loss record.
So, if Lo Duca is a weak hitter and the pitching staff is imploding what can you say? You trot out lines about how he puts more effort into anything than any other player on the team. Here’s more from the Geffner article on Lo Duca:
“He has, more than anyone on these Mets, pushed himself out in front as a leader on a team that for years now has seemed to lack one, calling out his mates when they desperately needed to be called out, chiding them for everything from laughing on the bench to, the greatest indictment of all, simply not caring enough.”
And it is not the first time this type of sports writing was used on Lo Duca’s behalf. Back in 2004, the Dodgers traded Lo Duca at the trading deadline to the Marlins, as part of a multi-player deal where the main player received in return was Brad Penny.
The Los Angeles writers had a fit. They held a grudge against Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta and used this trade as an excuse to rip the GM. They accused DePodesta of trading the “heart and soul” of the team in the middle of the pennant race. And Brad Penny got hurt shortly after the trade, making it all that much more unpopular in L.A.
What the media neglected to mention is that even without its “heart and soul”, the Dodgers made the playoffs. They gave up 22 runs in their three playoff losses so perhaps a legitimate starting pitcher like Brad Penny might have helped. And Lo Duca hit just .258/.314/.376 after the trade.
The myth of Paul Lo Duca lives on, thanks to hacks like Michael Geffner. Unfortunately, the reality of a weak-hitting, loud mouthed catcher also lives on. Since the pitching bas been so poor for the Mets lately, would it not be great for the team and its fans if a last-second deal of Paul Lo Duca for Brad Penny could be swung again?