2006 Catchers: .289/.338/.401
Considering many, including most people around here, assumed that the Mets would sign Ramon Hernandez last offseason, the decision to trade Gaby Hernandez, a good young pitching prospect, for then-Marlins’ catcher Paul Lo Duca certainly raised some eyebrows. When it occurred, most Mets fans felt that Lo Duca wasn’t going to be much of an addition. Lo and behold, Paulie responded with his best offensive season in five years, hitting .318/.355/.428, good for a 105 OPS+. Despite his disappointing defensive numbers, which included a complete inability to control the running game and a maddening ineptitude catching balls on plays at the plate, few would argue that Lo Duca did not have a mighty fine season in 2006.
Offensively, Paul Lo Duca is Tim McCarver’s dream. That is, he hustles, he puts the ball in play as well as anyone in baseball and he rarely strikes out. In fact, last year only three players who qualified for the battling title had a lower strikeout rate than Paulie. But striking out isn’t the only thing Lo Duca doesn’t do. He also seems to have an allergic reaction to walks and extra-base hits. As a result, his offensive value is tied to his batting average and the inherent luck that often comes with it. If the balls he puts in play fall for hits, he’s a good player. If they don’t, he’s not. It’s as simple as that. Considering that in 2006 Lo Duca’s BABIP was .337, which is about 40 points higher than his career average, it’s rather unlikely that Lo Duca will be as good in 2007 as he was last year.
Playing Robin to Lo Duca’s Batman will be Ramon Castro, he of the Bruce Bochy-like cranium. Acquired by Omar Minaya after being touted as a future star in sabermetric circles, Castro found his niche as an elite backup. He and Lo Duca couldn’t be more different as players. Castro hits for far more power and draws a lot of walks but he’ll never hit for average because he strikes out too often. Not only that, unlike Paulie he is a good defensive catcher with a fine arm. I’m confident that Castro would hit 15 homers and draw 50 walks as an everyday catcher, but I’ll have to be satisfied with him being one of the better back-ups in baseball. Because the Mets ran away with the division last year, they didn’t really feel Castro’s loss when he went on the disabled list late last season. That said, the catchers the Mets used to spell Lo Duca when Castro was down were so bad offensively, they managed to lower Met catcher OPS by about 25 points in only a measly 37 at-bats. That’s remarkably pathetic.
Potential Minor League Help for 2007
Mike Nickeas is supposedly a fine defensive catcher who has shown decent on-base ability in the minors. He’d probably do an adequate job as the backup if Castro or Lo Duca got hurt but he’s not a player that should be in the lineup more than once a week because he’s just not good enough offensively.
There will likely be a decline offensively but I don’t think Lo Duca will fall off a cliff. This is pure conjecture on my part but Lo Duca is in the ideal situation for a player with his hitting style. Pitchers are going to challenge him because he’s hitting behind Reyes and in front of the thunder in the Met line-up.