Value of Mark Ellis difficult to track

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:06
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Mark Ellis has 12 defensive runs saved, the most in the major leagues among second basemen not named Dustin Pedroia. He is eighth in something called ultimate zone rating, or UZR.

The gap between Ellis' defense and that of any other Dodgers second baseman is yawning, according to all the advanced statistical metrics.

[+] EnlargeMark Ellis
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsMark Ellis says of his Dodgers' role: "I just try to be somebody my teammates can count on every day."
And all of this means what, exactly, to Ellis?

"My agent tells me about them every once in a while, but honestly, I don't know what half of them mean. Nobody does," Ellis said. "I just go out there, try to put myself in the right spot and try to catch the ball."

That last comment encapsulates Ellis as a baseball player in 19 words. He just tries to put himself in the right spot and he tries to catch the ball.

Ellis is the least-flashy, least-obtrusive, lowest-maintenance everyday player on the Dodgers and, without many people knowing it, he's among the most valuable. On a team of brilliant athletes, $20 million-per-year salaries and puffed-out chests, Ellis falls under none of those categories. He's just a good player in all the ways most people don't bother to track.

Every other Dodger who has played second base this season combines for a minus-13 defensive runs saved, a chasm of 25 runs saved between those players and Ellis. The Dodgers are 68-35 when Ellis starts and 23-31 when he does not, entering Wednesday.

It all points to a player whose value is nowhere near suggested by his .264 batting average, his six home runs or his four stolen bases. It has become increasingly possible to isolate and study a player's value in every dimension of the game, but very few of those numbers show up in a box score on a daily basis.

Ellis routinely gives up at-bats to move runners over. He hangs on at second base in perilous situations and is among the best in the game at turning double plays.

"He’s just kind of day-in, day-out a solid player," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "You don't have to worry about Mark Ellis being ready to play or doing his work or anything at all."

If he's so good and so valuable, why did Ellis have to read reports a couple of weeks ago that the Dodgers were nearing an agreement to sign Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a $30 million-plus deal and planning use him at second base next season? Last week, Guerrero abruptly switched agents, to Scott Boras, and now is back on the open market.

Don't think Ellis didn't read about all that. The Dodgers have a $5.75 million option on him for next season. He's 36, but he said he has no intention of retiring after this season.

"That stuff has never bothered me," Ellis said. "They know I love playing here, so it will work itself out one way or another. I don't see myself being done after this year, that's for sure."

Ellis is among a sizeable number of Dodgers veterans who have played multiple series in October but never won a World Series. In 2006, his Oakland A's team reached the ALCS, but Ellis had broken his index finger in the previous series and didn't play.

All winter, he said he pushed himself to work out harder envisioning the potential of this Dodgers team.

"I've been on some bad teams and I feel like I'd have the pride and respect for the game to go about it the right way regardless, but it does help knowing every day we've got a chance of doing something really special," Ellis said. "Every day has a purpose."

Ellis has been injury-prone most of his career, and Mattingly has learned how to nurse him through a long season, frequently giving him a game or more off per week. Ellis hasn't missed fewer than 30 games in any season since he turned 30.

He acknowledges his range may not be what it was when he was 27, but he said he has gotten smarter. He has learned the Dodgers pitching staff and, along with infield coach Tim Wallach, pays careful attention to where he should position himself before every pitch.

"I just try to be somebody my teammates can count on every day," Ellis said. "I know I don't have the numbers that these guys have or the power or speed some of these guys have, but I just want to do something that's going to help the team win every single day."

It's rare that he doesn't, but how many of us notice?

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Dee Gordon
BA HR RBI R
.400 1 5 5
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 5
RBIA. Gonzalez 14
RA. Gonzalez 11
OPSA. Gonzalez 1.019
WZ. Greinke 3
ERAD. Haren 2.04
SOH. Ryu 22