When you look at some of these cards, you see how far we have come in analyzing the performance and probable future performance of ball players. I’ll submit that the case of Paul LoDuca would not have been such a surprise had it occurred in 2011 rather than 2001.
According to his 2002 Topps card, LoDuca’s performance came out of nowhere. It is true he had a phenomenal year, especially for a catcher, in batting .320 with a .374 OBP and .543 slugging percentage. In his previous stints in the majors, spread over three seasons, LoDuca’s slash line was nothing (.241/.306/.351). Still that was only 76 games and 174 ABs.
What we would have known about his career in 2011 that most people likely overlooked in 2001 was what LoDuca had done in the minors. LoDuca never posted an OBP below .380. In his first year in AAA (1998), he went .319/.399/.452. He’d improve upon those numbers across the board in his second AAA season, including an astounding .478 OBP.
You might think that LoDuca was stuck in the minors because of Mike Piazza, however Piazza was traded in 1998. LoDuca did get a cup of coffee that year, but really never got consistent at bats until 2001. At that point, LoDuca would be 29 and would never duplicate the heights of his 2001 campaign. Perhaps there were simply too many miles spent in the catcher’s crouch. Still, he remained serviceable until his age 34 season.
I’ll always wonder what his career arc would have looked like had the Dodgers stuck with him in 1998 (or sooner).
For the history of this series, check out this article: Check You Out On the Flip Side: Howard Johnson.