John Ely Impressing

This past off-season, the Los Angeles Dodgers shipped outfielder Juan Pierre to the Chicago White Sox for pitching prospects Jon Link and John Ely. Pierre is playing good D on the South Side, but his wretched hitting (.254/.305/.286, .285 wOBA) makes him a sub-optimal starter. Ely, meanwhile, made his major league debut in late April and has since made opposing hitters look like Pierre clones — batters have a .226/.260/.301 triple-slash against the Matthew McConaughey doppelganger. Who is this guy, and will he continue to produce for L.A.?

A product of Miami (Ohio) University, Ely was popped in the third round of the 2007 draft. At the time the Pale Hose picked him, Baseball America gave the following assessment of Ely:

Ely is just 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, and he has a head jerk in his maximum-effort delivery. His stuff is hard to argue with, however. His 89-94 mph fastball and his vastly improved changeup both qualify as plus pitches, and his curve is an average offering. Though he lacks smooth mechanics, he throws strikes and has a resilient arm that never has given him problems.

After getting his feet wet in the pros in rookie ball that summer (56 IP, 9 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 3.50 FIP), Ely made his full-season debut at High-A Winston-Salem in 2008. The former RedHawk attacked Carolina League hitters, striking out 8.3 per nine innings, walking 2.85 and posting a 4.02 FIP in 145.1 innings pitched. Though he served up 1.11 home runs per nine frames, Ely kept the ball on the ground with a 50.2 GB%. Following the season, BA praised Ely’s tumbling changeup and well-placed 88-94 MPH fastball, but cautioned that his curveball lacked consistency and that “there’s a lot of effort in his delivery.”

Bumped up to Double-A Birmingham in 2009, Ely had 7.2 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 0.52 HR/9 and a 3.33 FIP in 156.1 innings of work. He continued to induce grounders, with a 50.5 GB%. Prior to 2010, Baseball America noted that Ely’s fastball rarely cracked 90 MPH anymore, but contended that “his mid-70’s changeup is an equalizer.” Some concerns were voiced about his lack of a third consistent pitch — he experimented with a cut fastball/slider during the ’09 season to better handle lineups the second and third time around.

Ely opened this season at Triple-A Albuquerque, where he compiled a 12/8 K/BB ratio and allowed 6 runs in 18 IP. During his first six starts with the Dodgers, covering 39 innings, the 24-year-old has 7.38 K/9, 1.38 BB/9 and a 3.32 xFIP.

True to the scouting reports, Ely isn’t lighting up radar guns — his fastball is averaging 87.9 MPH. However, he’s not using the pitch much (about 32 percent), and when he does, he gets strikes (70.1 percent, 64.4% MLB average). Ely’s bread-and-butter is his changeup. According to Pitch F/X data from texasleaguers.com, he has pulled the string about 41 percent of the time. The change has garnered a strike 74.2 percent (60.7% MLB average), and it has been whiffed at 21.6 percent (12.6% MLB average). He’s also mixing in mid-80’s sliders/cutters, as well as a slooow 70 MPH curve.

Despite his modest stuff, Ely has managed to get swinging strikes 9.1 percent to this point (8-8.5% MLB average), while getting batters to chase his pitches out of the zone 29.1% (27.7% MLB average).

Heading into the season, neither ZiPS (5.53 K/9, 4.11 BB/9, 1.35 HR/9, 5.29 FIP) nor CHONE (6.7 K/9, 4.25 BB/9, 1.58 HR/9, 5.39 FIP) liked Ely’s chances of making a positive contribution at the big league level. Excellent start aside, owners should approach Ely with realistic expectations. Given his good, not great minor league track record and finesse repertoire, it would be best to view Ely as more of a pitcher capable of delivering league-average production than a breakout prospect.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


12 Responses to “John Ely Impressing”

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  1. Lego says:

    I haven’t seen him pitch much besides yesterday but the wind and his teammates’ defensive play sure helped. Good for him though for keeping up the QS’s. Dodger fans must really appreciate his consistency (especially given their early pitching problems)

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  2. Josh says:

    Great example of a pitcher worth far more in real life than fantasy (unless its a 16 team league.) But I do think he’ll be a 4th starter capable of carrying a 35 start load for several years. This quality is often taken for granted.

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  3. phil says:

    I’ve used him to 20.1IP, 2W, 15K, 2.21ERA, .98WHIP. 12 team, and i’d say that’s some fantasy value.

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  4. erik says:

    Josh–you are underestimating Ely’s value in fantasy this year. I play in two competitve leagues, one is ten team the other is 12 and he has been starting for me every time he pitches and racking up the stats. Very valuable so far, his future is less certain but if he doesn’t walk any body that will help. Plus, he gets to face the Padres and Giants in his division. He is basically doing a Kevin Slowey impression or Brad Radke.

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  5. Josh says:

    Well, anyone with a 31/5 K/BB ratio and his ERA/WHIP is going to be valuable in any league. He’s been great so far. Without looking at “who he is” – one could look at his stats and imagine a young flamethrower taking the majors by storm.

    Put it this way: If Strasburg starts off with a 31/5 ratio, ESPN and Yahoo will be fawning over him worse than Lebron.

    So, I won’t discount Ely’s stats to date, but realistically, where does he end up among the SP ranks from this point forward?

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  6. Josh says:

    Ely is a poor man’s Mike Leake, who is a poor man’s Tim Hudson (maybe one day his equal).

    Kevin Slowey is the leading FB pitcher in MLB, and his GB/FB will absolutely determine the path of his career. Ely does have that going for him.

    On that topic, I wonder how many keeper teams would take a Leake over a Matusz for the rest of their careers. Clearly, Matusz has greater upside, but at what point does the FB rate, combined with all the other factors (bad team, bad park, bad division, bad league) cause him to fall short of expectations?

    Leake seems the safer bet.

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  7. Stu says:

    Radar guns aren’t a category in my league, I’ve seen all his starts. After that first sub-par Met loss, he seems to have figured things out quite nicely. This may be a case where all the fancy new stat categories are meaningless. He simply know how to get people out.

    Count me in .

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  8. jtwood426 says:

    Maddux comparisons are a bit much. Randy Wells seems more reasonable.

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