A.J. Ellis is unquestionably one of the most likeable members of the 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers team. A homegrown player who toiled in the minors for 10 years before earning the starting catcher’s job in 2012, Ellis has already become something of Dodger folk hero. Ellis delivered one of the funniest sports interviews ever when he spoke to MLB Network just before the NLCS, an interview in which he had his nipples taped by Michael Young, complained about Don Mattingly’s bunt calls, and was jokingly told by Mattingly that he would not start Game 1 of the series on live TV.
In addition to his obvious interview skills, Ellis’ third child was famously born in the front seat of his car as he tried in vain to make it to the hospital during the 2012 offseason. The Dodgers know that Ellis will definitely provide some entertainment and light-hearted moments throughout the season, but what about his production on the field?
In Ellis’ 2012 debut year, he slashed .270/.373/.414 while hitting 13 homers and 52 RBI. Last year was something of a down year offensively for Ellis. The catcher slashed .238/.318/.364 while also slugging 10 home runs and 52 RBI. Ellis’ walk rate was down from a year ago, and he was good for 2.2 WAR in 2013 compared to 3.7 in 2012. So what caused the significant drop in Ellis’ offensive production?
It seems that Ellis may have been victimized by a regression to the mean in terms of his BABIP. In 2012, his BABIP was .329, a number generally considered an outlier and difficult to sustain. While Ellis may have had a bit of luck in 2012 due to BABIP, it looks as though he was stung by bad luck in 2013, posting a BABIP of .269. Both of these numbers are outside of the norm, so it is fairly safe to assume that Ellis will bounce back from his 2013 down season.
Two different projection systems, Steamer and ZiPS, both see Ellis returning to form in most categories. Though the projections are on the pessimistic side, the systems project strikingly similar outputs for Ellis, with Steamer seeing Ellis posting a .243/.337/.367 slash to go with a .313 wOBA, while ZiPS puts Ellis at .244/.337/.367 with a .306 wOBA. Each system also agrees that while Ellis will not return to his 2012 BABIP level, he will see a more average BABIP of .284 or .285, depending on which system you ask.
There is also great value in the way that Ellis approaches each plate appearance. Over the past two seasons, Ellis has been among the league leaders in pitches seen. By driving up the opposing pitcher’s pitch count, Ellis not only fatigues the pitcher, he allows his teammates to see more pitches to get a feel for that pitcher’s strategy and their stuff on any given start.
Of course, what Ellis is able to give offensively may not even matter all that much to the Dodgers. Given the potential output that the offense is capable of, the Dodgers may only need Ellis to continue to call a good game and manage the loaded starting rotation and bullpen. While Ellis’ framing abilities may leave something to be desired, there is something to be said for a player who was able to coax great seasons out of nearly every pitcher on the staff in 2013. If Ellis is indeed able to provide the offensive production Dodgers fans saw in 2012, the lineup may be even more productive than anticipated.
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