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Data show A.J. Ellis is the best pitch-caller in baseball

ST. LOUIS – Friday night’s game cast an unfavorable light on one of catcher A.J. Ellis’ deficiencies, his pitch-framing. The issue boiled over in the seventh inning, when umpire Mike Winters criticized Ellis’ pitch presentation and the catcher said something to get himself ejected.

Ellis has never ranked highly in pitch-framing, unlike the catcher the Dodgers activated from the seven-day concussion list Saturday, Yasmani Grandal.

But with far less fanfare, the same game also said something quite favorable about one of Ellis’ strengths: pitch-calling. According to a new statistic put together by Harry Pavlidis for ESPN, game-calling runs above average (GCRAA), Ellis is the best catcher in the major leagues at calling pitches. That skill was evident Friday, when Dodgers starter Mike Bolsinger was getting ripped in the early innings until Ellis adjusted the game plan.

He noticed St. Louis Cardinals hitters diving out over the plate looking for breaking balls on the outer half, so he began calling more fastballs inside. In the first three innings, St. Louis scored two runs on five hits against Bolsinger. In the last three innings, they scored no runs on two hits.

“It’s about manipulating a hitter’s body sometimes based on how they’re reacting to certain pitches,” Ellis said.

The Dodgers have known for years that Ellis is a skilled pitch-caller. He prepares his own scouting reports based on video work and works with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt throughout the game to adjust the plan of attack.

“I just love a guy who takes a lot of pride in what he does,” Honeycutt said. “When you get the uniformity we’ve had the last four years or so, I think you have to give him some of the credit for that.”

So, how will the Dodgers break the impasse? Do they go with the better pitch-framer or the better pitch-caller? A whole new set of data figure to come into play as they dole out playing time for their two catchers. Grandal is batting .291 with an .869 OPS. Ellis is hitting .137 with a .418 OPS.