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In 2012, a 31-year-old who was selected in the 18th round of the 2003 draft became the Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting catcher. At first, everyone was happy. He hit .270/.373/.414, threw out 33% of attempted basestealers and was beloved by the team’s best pitcher. Just two years later, A.J. Ellis has seen his OPS drop nearly .250 points, his defense regress and his friendship with a star player wane. Actually, I made the last part up, he and Kershaw are still BFF’s. Is it time to replace the Dodgers’ starting catcher?

Ground to Air

While looking at the dystopian wasteland that is Ellis’ 2014 stat line, several things jumped out at me. He just recently hit his first home run of the season, in his 57th game.  His BABIP is a measly .222, by far the lowest it has been in his career. Even his line drive rate is down significantly. But, in looking deeper into those numbers, it seems that Ellis has either changed his approach dramatically or has changed his swing.

In his first two seasons as a regular, A.J. was a groundball hitter. In 2012, he hit groundballs 44.5% of the time and flyballs just 32.6% of the time. In 2013, the rates were 44.3% grounders and 37% flyballs. This year, he’s flipped the script, with a 41.2% groundball rate and a 42.6% flyball rate, giving him a 0.97 ground/fly ratio. What’s the cause of this? Haven’t the foggiest idea.

I’ve looked at Ellis’ swing from the past few years and haven’t seen any significant differences. He has gotten a little softer on his front side in 2014, not leveraging as much off of his front leg, but that’s about it. This difference in groundballs and flyballs accounts for a good portion of his decline in BABIP. The lower line drive rate, now at just 16.2%, impacts that as well. These factors greatly influence his effect on balls in play, which directly contributes to his lack of batting average.

Doing the Splits

Another area of Ellis’ struggles is his utter inability to hit right-handed pitching. This is new, as he had done well against righties over the past few years. In 2012, he hit them well, to the tune of a 124 wRC+. In 2013, that number declined to a slightly below average 94 wRC+. This year, it’s 56 wRC+.

Using Baseball Savant’s awesome pitch f/x resource, we can see that Ellis is batting just .210 against right-handed fastballs. What’s given him the most trouble are cutters and sliders, as he’s hitting .133 against him. He’s had a little more success against curveballs, but has only put nine in play.

Don’t Bring the Heat

Staying on the pitch f/x analysis, it appears that the most likely reason for this decline is simply due to age. With age comes loss of bat speed. That theory seems to be backed up by the numbers, showing that Ellis is struggling with even average velocity.

In 2012, A.J. hit .285 against pitches that were thrown 88mph or faster. In 2013, that number dropped to .236. This season, his average against the hard stuff is just .202. To put that in perspective, Josh Beckett and Clayton Kershaw have handled that velocity better than him this year.

Next Page: Read About Ellis’ Defense & Potential Replacements

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About The Author

Jared formerly covered prospects and wrote editorials for Dodgers Nation. You can find Jared on Twitter @JaredJMassey

6 Responses

  1. David

    One thing the numbers don’t show.. three no hitters this year in the mlb… aj has caught two of them

    Reply
    • Matthew Moreno

      Ellis only caught Kershaw’s. Butera was behind the plate for Beckett’s.

      Reply
      • matthew sucksballs

        nooooo your wrong retard a.j. ellis caught both

      • craig hill

        No he didn’t. AJ’s claim to fame after this game was injuring his leg when he RAN OFF THE BENCH to step into THE WINNING CATCHER DREW BUTERA’s mask.

        Soooo if the guy who got it right is a retard what does that make you—a fool blowhard.

  2. craig hill

    I think the reason Ellis has become a flyball out is to avoid the much worse groundball DP.

    AJ’s D & O has got to be addressed by the GM (good luck there). He’ll be 34 first week of April, which means to Ned he’s must be coming into his prime.

    Butera is a much better backstop: He’s throwing out more more than twice the runners Ellis is, 32% to 15%. What does that mean for Ellis’ defense? He’s such a great pitch-caller he doesn’t know when to call a fastball on a steal count. His other problem tho is catching the ball, at which he should be tested for palsy. The Dodgers are going to not only be embarrassed next year if they start the year with Ellis as the #1, assuming they get thru postseason without Ellis giving up another PB loss, as he did in Kershaw’s (Ellis’) 1-0 loss to St Loo in the NLCS, they’re going to be scrambling for another catcher when Ellis’ D continues to deteriorate. Dodger fans have got to get over their hero-worship and count the balls he drops from the pitcher, and from the OF throws to home plate, as he did last week, wasting a perfect throw to the plate from Puig that was ahead of the runner but which Ellis COULD NOT CATCH AND HOLD.

    Whatever it takes, i am looking forward to Butera starting in postseason and not Mr Thumbs.

    Reply

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