A.J. Ellis Should Be Walking His Way Onto Your Team

Pop quiz, hotshot: without looking, try and name the three batters at the top of the MLB leaderboards in on-base percentage (entering Wednesday).

Give up? Well, Matt Kemp at the top should be no surprise, since he’s coming off an MVP-caliber season and just finished up one of the best Aprils in decades. David Wright in second isn’t a shocker either; after a few down seasons, he’s healthy and motivated for the surprisingly pesky Mets. And in third place… Josh Hamilton? David Ortiz? Joey Votto? All worthy choices, and all in the top ten, but if you really guessed that the answer was a 31-year-old catcher with 244 career MLB plate appearances under his belt entering the season, then you’re either an enormous Dodger fan or an immediate member of the A.J. Ellis family.

All season long, the common refrain around the Dodgers is that they’ve been carried by the dynamic duo of Kemp & Andre Ethier, with little support from the rest of the lineup, and that’s not entirely true: Ellis enters play on Friday carrying a line of .306/.449/.468. That’s good for for 1.1 WAR in just under a month of play, and the ensuing .392 wOBA places him fifth among all catchers, despite not having near the type of power you’ll see from those ahead of him like Matt Wieters & Buster Posey. After hitting a double and a homer off of Jhoulys Chacin on Tuesday, he’s now reached base in fifteen consecutive games, thanks in large part to his 20.2% walk rate, third best in baseball. (Lest you think this is a function of hitting in front of the pitcher, think again, because this is serious business; he even enters games to the excellent and appropriate “Walk” by the Foo Fighters.)

Yet for all of his early achievements, Ellis has gone all but ignored in fantasy baseball. He’s owned by just 4% of teams in Yahoo and a miniscule 0.8% in ESPN leagues, far less than several clearly inferior options. Those numbers are so tiny that it basically means that Ellis is a free pick-up in all but the most extremely deep leagues.

So what’s keeping Ellis off fantasy rosters? The obvious culprit is probably simple lack of name recognition, since this is his tenth professional season and the first in which he’s been a full-time big leaguer. While that may lead many to look upon his productive April as merely a streaky good start, I’m not so sure. In over 2100 minor-league plate appearances, his career OBP was .406, and it gets more impressive as you go; he hasn’t come in at under .400 since 2007. Spending most of four seasons in Triple-A is admittedly less than impressive, though you’ll find more than a small minority of Dodger fans who had been calling for the Dodgers to bring him up rather than play the likes of Brad Ausmus & Dioner Navarro over the last few seasons. It’s probably unrealistic to expect him to keep up that line for the remainder of the season, yet it should be noted that ZIPS has him down for a tasty .370 OBP projection the rest of the way.

Perhaps there’s other reasons, as well. Ellis is far from a power threat, having hit just six homers in 1021 Triple-A plate appearances despite calling the hitting havens of Las Vegas & Albuquerque home – though he has improved that rate considerably in the bigs, making him an outside shot for double-digit homers this year. His runs scored and batted in are also not helped by hitting 8th in the Dodger lineup, ahead of the pitcher and behind the ineffective likes of Juan Rivera, James Loney, and Juan Uribe. That has the potential to change, however, as the drumbeats for manager Don Mattingly to move Ellis to the top of his OBP-challenged order continues to intensify, and Ellis being on base in front of Kemp & Ethier would instantly change his outlook in these other categories. (Eric Seidman will have more on this later morning.)

Basically, it comes down to this: if your league counts OBP, as many do, then he’s an immediate must-add. (I just dropped Geovany Soto to pick him up in one such league.) If your league is NL-only, then he’s almost certainly an add, assuming you don’t already have Posey, Brian McCann, or Yadier Molina. And in most other leagues, he’s probably worth a look as well. A player with that line, with that minor-league history of on-base prowess, and at that slim of a position, absolutely deserves to be seeing time on more fantasy squads.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

22 Responses to “A.J. Ellis Should Be Walking His Way Onto Your Team”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    Ellis is *long* gone in NL-only leagues.

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    • mcbrown says:

      Seriously. If you have a pulse and regular PT, you are already owned in AL/NL-only leagues.

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      • Mike Petriello says:

        For sure, totally agree with you guys. This was pointed more at the mixed leagues where Ellis is hardly touched.

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  2. Whoever wrote this is a genius and should be promoted!

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  3. Wade8813 says:

    I just stumbled upon him this morning and was thinking about adding him. This convinced me to pull the trigger.

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  4. Dan Z says:

    Worth an add in 2 C leagues over the likes of John Buck?

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      Does your league count OBP? If so absolutely. Buck has always been atrocious in that, and this year he’s not even hitting for power in that new park. Even if you don’t count OBP I’d consider it, just because Ellis is at least getting hits while Buck has done little.

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  5. The Distinguished Gentleman says:

    Ellis over Soto ROS?

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  6. shibboleth says:

    Hmm. Tempting… completely out of the blue. Would you take Ellis over Iannetta in a 12 team mixed, obp slg?

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  7. scott says:

    Worth dropping R Roberts to start at the utility spot standard espn league?

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  8. MajorDanby says:

    wilson ramos or ellis in a league that counts obp?

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    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      This is my quandary as well. But I think I’m going to make the switch. Ramos is batting 8th also, and in a terrible lineup.

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  9. mdecav says:

    So Mattingly should switch Ellis for Ellis in the lineup?

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  10. Table says:

    So much for the AAAA myth. First Theo Epstein brushes it off, and then Ellis and Bryan Lahair give it a piece of their mind.

    Obviously they could be more of the exception and not the rule, so for someone like me who argues for AAAA guys to play ALL THE TIME, Ill still be wrong more often than not. However this still has to prove something right?

    Either that some players just need extended chances to prove themselves….or that some guys take longer than others to develop MLB quality. Not every player is 100% fine tuned skill wise to go with their physical prime at 25-26. Heck not every single player’s physical prime is 25-26 either…there must be some outliers.

    Anyways…..go Chris Davis! Viva the REVOLUTION!!

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    • Mike D says:

      AAAA players statistically cannot be a myth. If you were to take every professional baseball player (from rookie league to the majors) and rank their playing abilities you cannot have a missing gap of players who can do really well in AAA but not the majors.

      That’s the equivalent to ranking the entire human population by IQ and saying there no people exist who have an IQ between 140 and 145.

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    • AA says:

      AAAA players aren’t a myth – they just aren’t AJ Ellis. Brandon Wood is a really good example

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  11. Bip says:

    What if your league only values HR, BA, SB, RBI’s and R? Walks don’t help any of those except runs, and he bats eighth.

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  12. mongo says:

    After waiting and waiting for Russell Martin..I finally dropped him for Ellis. If for no other reason than that I need the BA. Ellis has more RBI than Martin also.

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  13. Matt says:

    Worth dropping J Montero for Ellis (or Carlos Ruiz) in a 10 team 5×5 OBP league.

    I really need to get my OBP up but haven’t been able to give up on Montero yet (that .280 OBP is killer)

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  14. The Foils says:

    Some random A.J. Ellis thoughts:

    He sort of strikes me as the perfect confluence of old baseball and Moneyball baseball. On the one hand, he’s OBP personified. On the other hand, his (SSS) stats have never been that great, even in the minors, so even most sabermetricians never had cause to notice him.

    But sometimes, the old scouting methods have some value. I’ve watched most of A.J.’s at bats over the years, and it’s so hard for me to think this is a fluke. I don’t see a way in which he’s not a top ten catcher in all leagues next year.

    There’s a difference between intense plate discipline and being an elite/hyper-intelligent defensive catcher — but being both leads to a sustainably high BABIP and BB%, IMO.

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