As the regular catcher for one Clayton Kershaw, Ellis is there to receive fastballs and sliders that are headed toward the strike zone and destined to get the left-handed ace to Cooperstown.
It’s a window into history, and Ellis will be darned if he is going to just give up the view easily. New Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has said multiple times since spring training has started that he is not thinking about using personal catchers this season, bringing the Kershaw-Ellis partnership into light.
"To be a part of that is something that is a thrill for me, and I will relish and cherish every opportunity I can to be out there for him," Ellis said, as Kershaw stood within earshot. "I think we have a good relationship and we really work well together, although he probably doesn’t need me back there because he can probably throw to you behind the plate. But there are those games, those situations, where he’s told me that I make a difference and that’s what makes our partnership work so well."
At some point, something will have to give, because Roberts sounded like he had already given the subject some considerable thought.
"I think that it serves everyone better when a catcher is familiar with all pitchers," Roberts said. "I think that certain circumstances will present themselves where, as a coach, you want to have that trust that each catcher has as much familiarity with the individual pitchers. I think that there is some good with a personal catcher, but I am more on the side that catchers should be familiar with different guys."
Ellis also knows he doesn’t play for the Los Angeles A.J.s, he plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the person deciding what is best for the team typically is not one of the club’s two catchers.
"It’s not about my feelings, it’s about winning games and trying to move forward," Ellis said. "It doesn’t really matter what I want or what is best for me, it’s what the people in a decision-making role thinks is best for the Dodgers. That’s my job to continue to be professional and respect the situations. But at the same time, if I’m asked, I’m going to be catching Clayton. That’s what I want to do."
The numbers show the partnership works extremely well, but as Ellis humbly admitted, an average Joe could probably hold his own with Kershaw calling the shots from the mound.
According to the ESPN Stats & Information Department, Ellis was behind the plate for 21 of Kershaw’s 33 starts last season, as the left-hander held opponents to a .204 batting average in those games and a whopping 6.55 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents had a meager .251 on-base percentage when Kershaw and Ellis worked together, and a .293 slugging percentage.
But when putting his entire 2015 season into focus, Kershaw actually finished the year with a 7.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while opponents hit just .194 against him. They also had a .237 on-base percentage when considering all catchers.
They seem to be numbers that Roberts is well aware of, which might have led to his desire to get others involved in the mix.
Not to be overlooked in the matter, though, is the close bond Kershaw and Ellis share. Roberts was asked if the pitcher might have any say in who gets into a crouch for each of his starts.
"Well, I think that there is a dialog," Roberts said. "I think that with respect to each individual pitcher, we still have a job to do as far as the ballclub. I think that people are comfortable with certain things, which is great. But I think (it works) as long as there is that line of communication, and why we feel a certain way (about) the pitcher/catcher matchup that particular night. Just explain things. But we’re definitely open to thoughts, for sure."
According to Elias, the Kershaw-Ellis partnership has been used 102 times since the start of the 2012 season. Only the San Francisco's battery of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey has been used more since then (109 times).
It’s not that Ellis doesn’t think Yasmani Grandal can’t form a quality bond with Kershaw. He just likes being there for his friend and catching baseballs that have a partial ticket to the Hall of Fame written on each of them.
"I thought Yazmani and myself formed a great partnership, especially with the way things played themselves out during the season, and the way I really struggled offensively in the first half," said Ellis, who fashioned a .667 OPS in 28 starts before the break, and an .835 OPS after it. "And Yaz was, rightfully so, an all-star catcher last year. The way he performed was elite for the position.
"Unfortunately with him getting banged up with a foul tip in the second half, it felt god for me to step up and help carry the load as he recovered. I’m excited for that to continue in any way that Dave and Andrew (Friedman) decide is best for the ballclub."