Zeroing in On Ely

John Ely spent his first three professional seasons in the White Sox organization after they made him a third round pick in 2007 out of Miami (Ohio). The righthander is now part of the Dodgers organization after they netted him him in a deal for Juan Pierre. Luckily for Ely his new big league team plays in one of the games better run suppressing environments and the Dodgers also spend a fair amount of time in pitchers heaven, Petco Park. ESPN’s 2009 park factors has Dodger stadium at 0.857 (1.000 is average) which was the third best run suppressing environment in baseball last year.

Ely will still likely require more seasoning in the minors before reaching LA but he’s one to keep an eye for people in keeper and regular fantasy leagues.

I saw Ely pitch multiple times in the Carolina League during the 2008 season. Below is the scouting report I had on Ely:

“Has some max effort mechanics. But they create very good deception and they make it tough to pick up the ball out of his hand. Fastball ranges from 90-92 MPH. It should end up being at least an average MLB pitch. He’s got a plus-plus change up. He relies heavily on the pitch and it’s his bread and butter. His breaking ball needs a lot of work. It’s definitely his third pitch right now. If the breaking ball improves I could see Ely becoming a back of the rotation/swingman type guy. Plus makeup as well.”

I also suggested that Ely might be suited for bull pen work:

“The change up falls off the table and accompanied with an average fastball (there’s room for more growth if he can blow it up for an inning or two in the pen) he could become a middle reliever type. He’s one to watch.”

First off, I completely neglected to mention Ely’s plus-plus command which has been a key part of his success. He’s been successful at every level he’s been assigned to in the minors and has established a knack for keeping the ball on the ground. Ely has had a 51% groundball rate during each of his minor league seasons (according to Firstinning.com). It also appears that I tended to see Ely on his better days with the reported 90-92 fastball velocity. Ely’s velocity is reported to vary and here’s a snippet about that velocity in Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook: “Ely’s best pitch is a plus-plus changeup, and he does a nice job of setting it up with an 88-94 mph fastball with good movement“.

That’s a pretty big spread on velocity and it makes me wonder if Ely knows when to add or subtract a little from his fastball in order to make his change up that much harder to pick up…

Ely was very impressive last season in Double-A for the White Sox. He had solid peripherals across the board including a 7.20 K/9 rate, 2.88 BB/9 rate, and a 0.52 HR/9 rate which added up to a 3.33 FIP (the super low HR/9 immensely help his FIP). Stat Corner’s version of tRA really liked Ely last year and his tRA was 3.75 in a league where the starting pitcher’s average tRA was 4.59.

It’s fair to expect the home run rate to jump as he climbs the ladder next year and Ely’s strikeout rate has trended downward over the past three seasons. Below are his strikeout and walk rates as he’s advanced through the system:

2007 (Rookie–56 IP): 9.00 K/9, 2.25 BB/9
2008 (A+–145 IP): 8.30 K/9, 2.85 BB/9
2009: (AA–156 IP): 7.20 K/9, 2.88 BB/9

As he’s faced better competition he’s missed less bats while his impeccable control has remained similar. His strikeout rate has likely declined because he lacks a consistent third pitch and his out pitch is his plus-plus change up. Ely has also failed to pitch deep into his starts at the professional level. He’s extremely durable and has made 66 starts (and one relief appearance) over the past three seasons. Below are the average amount of innings pitched for Ely per start:

2007: 4.6
2008: 5.3
2009: 5.7

On the positive side Ely has pitched deeper into games as his career has progressed but he’s still failed to complete six innings on an average basis. Perhaps the White Sox organization keeps their minor leaguers on a strict pitch count or kept Ely on a strict one. Ely only eclipsed or passed the 100 pitch marker twice last season (and each time that he did he tossed 100 or 101 pitches).

In some regards Ely also reminds me of former Red Sox hero Keith Foulke. Foulke had great command (2.22 career BB/9) and his big out pitch was his change up though Ely throws a bit harder than Foulke did. Foulke’s fastball was typically about 86-87 mph. I do think Ely could have success in a major league bull pen but might be forced into a big league rotation as soon as next year.

Ely will likely begin the 2010 season in Triple-A for the Dodgers but could be pushed into big league action if the cash-strapped Dodgers struggle to establish the back end of their rotation. It would be key if Ely could make strides with his breaking ball and he’s going to face many doubters that think he can’t start without a consistent third offering. And if he fails he’ll likely get a shot as a reliever but his fantasy value would disappear unless he was closing.

But Ely’s had success without a consistent third pitch (accompanied with an above average ground ball rate) and pitching in Dodger stadium can only help him and may serve as a de facto third pitch in some regards.

Track his progress closely in spring training and pick him up now if he’s available in your keeper leagues. If he begins getting starts at the big league level I’d take a gamble on him and see what materializes. He’s had nothing but success thus far despite an abnormal plan of attack.




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Dan is a Sports Marketing major at Duquesne University and most recently interned with Baseball America. He also spent parts of two seasons as an intern with the Washington Nationals. He aspires to work in a baseball operations department and can be reached at danbudreika@gmail.com.


9 Responses to “Zeroing in On Ely”

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  1. sigh says:

    yeah…no. ely is what every other middling AA prospect is. common. and foulke in his prime threw 91-93.

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    • Dan Budreika says:

      I wouldn’t quite label an average fastball with life, a plus-plus change up, and plus command as “common” in the minor leagues.

      Perhaps Foulke did throw harder during his White Sox years but dating back to 2002 his average fastball was 87.6 mph. And while his velo tapered off towards the end of his career he was still throwing 87-89 mph during his banner years in Oakland and Boston.

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  2. hk says:

    Any thoughts on the other pitcher, Jon Link, that went to the Dodgers? I haven’t found much written about Link since Keith Law wrote the following about him in March:

    • White Sox right-hander Jon Link, acquired from San Diego in 2007 for utility man Rob Mackowiak (by the way, the idea of giving up anything of value for Mackowiak confuses me profoundly), showed a 91-92 mph fastball with a plus slider that had a hard break I can only describe as “fast.” If nothing else, Link can miss bats in the big leagues with that pitch.

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  3. circlechange11 says:

    When I read this article, as a pitching coach with a fondness for the change-up, I immediately thought of another dominant MiLB pitcher that made his debut this year as basically a FB-CH pitcher … our local guy, Clay Zavada.

    Here’s Zavada’s MiLB domination stats …

    Note: In 07 he was out of baseball, fulfilling a promise made to his recently deceased father, to graduate from college (His personal story is a tear-jerker, if oneis interested in reading about it).

    ’08 (A) — 35.1 IP – 6H (Yes, 6 hits) – 1 HR – 5 BB – 54 K – 0.31 WHIP
    ’09 (AA) — 17.1 IP – 10 H – 2 HR – 7 BB – 18 K – 0.98 WHIP

    I was a little frustrated with Baseball Prospectus’s comments which (to me) almost seemed to write him off as a bad joke including “video game numbers” and a “bugs bunny change-up”, but then insinuating he would not be any good in MLB.

    ’09 (MLB) — 51 IP – 45 H – 5 HR – 24 BB – 54 K – 1.35 WHIP

    As a “2-pitch guy”, he was able to keep a decently high K/9 rate, but his WHIP jumped up quite a bit, as did his HR/IP rate, primarily due to being a “Fly Ball & K pitcher”. Ely should do perhaps a little better with the high GB%.

    I know Zavada was mostly effective versus RHBs as a LHP, primarily because the CH is more effective against opposite handed batters. I know he introduced a CV as a 3rd pitch with marginal success, but is also working on a cutter to use against LHBs as to feature somethng that runs “into the hands of RHBs”.

    So, Ely could be effective as a RP, but he does likely ned to develop a pitch that moves “away from the sweet spot”, such as a cutter that runs into the hands of LHBs, and get his FB to run into RHBs.

    I don;t see too many guys that are able to run through a lineup 3 times with just using 2 pitches.

    If memory serves me, Eric Gagne was a very successful 2-pitch minor league starter, with 2 pitches that were “very highly rated”.

    At the MLB level I think you need a 3rd pitch, specifically something that moves horizontally, if not more than to “show something”. Ely’s K/9 is pretty good, but his MiLB WHIP is 1.29, and that likely goes up in MLB, which could be problematic.

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    • Dan Budreika says:

      Interesting stuff, circlechange11. Zavada is indeed a two pitch guy but his left-handedness does certainly help him and as you noted he is a fly ball pitcher.

      A third pitch would be huge for John Ely I absolutely agree with you that running through a big league line up with two pitches would be a huge challenge and after time hitters could catch on more easily. But as I said in the article…Dodger stadium is only going to help him.

      I’ve read scouting reports that say Ely has flashed a good curve ball at times. But it’s an inconsistent pitch. At least we know there is some ability there to drop a curveball…

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  4. OxfordBoss says:

    I went to college with Ely and saw him pitch about a dozen times from his freshman and junior seasons. He’s definitely a max effort guy, and the note about deception is correct. I saw him anywhere between 86-93 MPH over the three years, but more importantly, many times Ely blew 87 MPH fastballs by hitters. It’s the deception he creates. I think Ely’s curveball is better than described in this post, perhaps it was a bad night for him, but he occasionally did throw a major league quality curveball, so it’s there.

    I didn’t think Ely would be as durable as he has demonstrated, and thought his future was in the bullpen as a late innings guy. Ely is a VERY entertaining pitcher to watch. He’s a fierce competitor and demonstrates it on the mound, but at the same time keeps his composure. Miami (Ohio) U has produced a few early round draft picks in recent years (Keith Weiser, Matt Long, Connor Graham), but Ely is the best. Clearly, he’s not a top flight pitching prospect, though. His delivery might lead to injury down the road, his curve can be inconsistent, his velocity could be better, but for a salary dump trade, the Dodgers did alright.

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