If you rumble in certain corners of the country or the Internet, you may have heard tales of #A.J. Ellis Facts, which chronicles the exploits of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ first-time starting catcher as if he were an Avenger of some incredible ilk.
In reality, Ellis is not a superhero, but he might be the best pick for the National League All-Star team at catcher in 2012.
Ellis, who had only 141 career major league plate appearances before turning 30 last year, has adapted a long-developed mastery of the strike zone in the minors into an earnest dose of offensive weaponhood in the big leagues, to the point that he is now third in the NL in on-base percentage (.462) behind David Wright and Joey Votto.
Additionally, despite managing only six home runs in more than 800 Pacific Coast League at-bats, Ellis has added enough pop to his game (five doubles, a triple and three home runs this season) that he is slugging .512 and has an OPS of .974, the latter figure tops among all major league catchers. This despite playing two-thirds of his games this year in the relatively stifling hitting environments of Dodger Stadium and San Diego’s Petco Park.
While some might argue Ellis’ walk totals are inflated by his usually batting eighth in the lineup with the pitcher on deck, let it be known that by himself, Ellis has more walks batting eighth (17) than the No. 8 hitters for every other NL team. No one at his position or in his spot in the batting order can match his ability to draw ball four. (In fact, Ellis leads the majors in pitches per plate appearance, with 4.87).
Meanwhile, Ellis has shined on defense as well, throwing out 42 percent of opposing base stealers (11 of 26). According to Fangraphs, Ellis is second in the NL to San Diego’s Nick Hundley in stolen-base runs saved. That leaves Ellis as the No. 1 catcher in baseball to date in wins above replacement. Ellis has outperformed every backstop in the game offensively, especially when park factors are considered, and has thrown out baserunners with the best of them. A recent spate of passed balls, giving him four in 2012, is his only blemish defensively.
Certainly, the baseball world will be in wait-and-see mode with regard to how long Ellis can maintain this level of performance, but if you’re asking yourself who’s the best catcher in the NL right now, it’s hard to find anyone who tops Ellis. Those who are loathe to support the All-Star candidacy of someone so new to the scene should consider the nine years Ellis has worked to achieve this performance since the Dodgers drafted him in 2003. He deserves recognition, and that’s an A.J. Ellis fact.
Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers at Dodger Thoughts.