A.J. Ellis had an offensive down year in general in 2013, but looking at his season through Blue colored glasses, it may not have been as bad as initially thought. The 32 year old catcher played in 115 games in 2013, which is less than the 133 he played in 2012. A.J. split more time with backup Tim Federowicz during the 2013 season, but the increased rest didn’t do much to help his plummeting batting average and on-base percentage.
A.J.’s offense has always been his strength. His ability to work counts, draw walks, and get on base at a better than league average clip has always been his biggest asset. For example last season A.J. was one of the team leaders in most pitches seen and OBP during the 2012 season, but those numbers dropped considerably during A.J.’s deep offensive freeze of 2013. During his strong 2012 campaign, A.J. saw over 2,200 pitches, and that dropped to 1,958. A.J.’s walk percentage fell from 12% in 2012, to 10% in 2013. A.J. drew 65 walks in 2012, and that dropped to 45 this season. Looking at the numbers further, I noticed that the number of pitches A.J. swung at outside the strike zone decreased from last season.
The numbers show A.J. swinging at the same amount of pitches (37.6% to 37.8%), but his percentage of pitches outside the strike zone swung at decreased from 22.4% last year to 19% this year. So if A.J. is swinging at less pitches outside the strike zone, how come his OBP, and plate discipline numbers are down from last year?
I’m not sure, but I did notice that his line drive percentage is down from 22.9% to 18.7% this season, and his fly ball ratio has risen considerably. The one thing I did see was that his BABIP fell from .318 last year to .269 this year. What that means I don’t know. I normally don’t believe in the luck stat, but this could tell us that A.J. hit into some extreme poor luck this year.
A.J. posted a slash line in 2013 of .238/.319/.364, with a .682 OPS in 4448 plate appearances. A.J.’s power numbers were around the same. The catcher hit ten home runs, and drove in 52 runs. Last season he hit 13 dingers, and drove in 52 runs. A.J.’s splits were a bit bizarre. He batted poorly against lefties (.200), and hit better on the road, (.263), then he did at Dodger Stadium, (.211). His batting really declined in the second half. He hit just .204 after the all-star break, and batted .175 in August, and just .207 in September.
Overall A.J.’s on base skills dropped considerably. Without his ability to get on base at a better than average clip, makes his offense less than desirable. He’s still seeing the same number of pitches, and isn’t swinging at as many pitches outside the strike zone. However his line drive percentages have dropped, and between that and his poor batted ball luck gives us a reason as to why A.J.’s batting average and OBP have dropped as much as they did.
A.J,’s defense has never been one of his strong areas, but his incredibly accurate throwing arm almost makes up for his troubles with plate blocking. Sometimes it can be hard to quantify a catcher’s defense, but we can give it a try.
If we look at the basic numbers we see A.J. finished with a .997 fielding percentage, and only committed three errors in 2013. The numbers show A.J. saved over eight runs defensively in 2013, with a +8 total runs above average rating. That’s good, and his six passed balls is pretty good. However he allowed 45 wild pitches, which could point to his troubles with blocking balls in the dirt, and his often times poor game calling/pitch selections. His strength is definitely his strong throwing arm. The work that A.J. did with catching coach Steve Yeager has really paid off. A.J. threw out 28 of 63 runners for a caught stealing percentage of 44%. The league average is 28%, so A.J. is well ahead of that.
Overall A.J. is a better than average defender with some trouble blocking balls in the dirt, and a very, very accurate throwing arm. A.J.’s arm combined with the Dodger pitching staff’s new ability to hold runners on almost eliminated the opposition’s running game. However A.J. must improve upon his game calling, and framing skills which came under a bigger spotlight during the postseason.
A.J. has three more seasons of arbitration eligibility before he can file for free agency in 2017. A.J. made two million dollars in 2013 as a super two first year arbitration player. The backstop figured to get about the same in 2014, but a slight raise seems possible.
A.J. actually was a pretty solid hitter during the playoffs this season for the Dodgers. A.J. batted .333 (4 for 12) in the NLDS against Atlanta, and hit 316 (6 for 19) with a home run in the NLCS against the Cardinals. Overall A.J. batted .323 (10 for 31) with a home run, three runs driven in, and a .400 OBP in 36 playoff plate appearances. A.J, drew three walks in the postseason, and preformed pretty solidly at the plate.
Overall outlook for 2014
A.J. is an overall solid catcher with some weaknesses. The right handed hitting catcher was an 18 round draft pick in 2003 for the Dodgers, and spent years in the minors before being called up. That’s a testament to his perseverance. But we forget sometimes that he was a career minor leaguer before the Dodgers started to play him regulars a couple of years ago. His plate discipline is about the same, even though he saw less pitches, and hit into some poor batted ball luck. Although you can’t blame it all on poor batted ball luck, as his line drives were down, and he saw a 30 point drop in his batting average, and 50 point drop in his OBP. According to Baseball reference that dropped his WAR about a win from last year.
A.J.’s defensive game could use a major overhaul. While the catcher doesn’t make a lot of big defensive mistakes, his plate blocking leaves something to be desired. The catcher needs to work on that along with his game calling and framing skills. We saw how he struggled during the playoffs with limiting passed balls, wild pitches, and pitching staff meltdowns. We saw how he was taken to school by the superior game calling and catching skills of Yadier Molina. A.J. does have good pop in his bat, able to hit anywhere from 10-15 home runs per season.
A.J.’s 2014 outlook looks good if he works on improving his defensive shortcomings. I’m going to assume just for now that his offensive downturn was nothing more than a bad year. I’m willing to overlook that because of all the good that he brings. A.J. knows the staff very well, and has always been a hard worker. I have no doubt that he will do everything in his power to improve upon his weak areas. However, the playoffs certainly showed us that he is nowhere near being at the elite level of catching that Yadier Molina is at. A.J. is still a solid catcher overall with a good throwing arm, some pop in the bat, and an uncanny ability to get on base. Unfortunately, it seems as though the workload is starting to take it’s toll on his body. The best course of action for the Dodgers next year would be to split more of his time with Federowicz, and keep his playing time down to 90-100 games next season.