Dodger Catchers Continuing To Struggle

As we all focused, and continue to focus, on the need for help in the rotation and bullpen, something that kept quietly coming up was the Dodger catching situation, which has been something of an issue all season long. Way back in April, I wrote a post about how atrocious the Dodgers catchers had been, pointing out that Tim Federowicz and Drew Butera weren’t doing much while trying to cover for A.J. Ellis‘s absence due to knee surgery. Ellis came back for eight May games, then hurt his ankle on Butera’s mask in the Josh Beckett no-hitter celebration, then came back again on June 13;  in the meantime, Butera, Federowicz, and (briefly) Miguel Olivo hadn’t given us much to dream on. The hope was that Ellis, once he was healthy, could bring some level of stability to the situation, even if last month I still wanted to see the team add catching depth.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t really happened. Dodger catchers are hitting .189/.284/.267, a woeful 59 wRC+ that is better than only that of Tampa Bay. It’s currently the third-worst offensive season in the last 100 seasons of Brooklyn/Los Angeles catchers. (Unsurprisingly, the top eight seasons are all either Mike Piazza or Roy Campanella.) It is, clearly, something of a mess.

Lately, most of the heat, at least that I’ve seen from fans, has fallen on Ellis, hitting .194/.335/.239 and seeming to have his struggles behind the plate. It’s both fair and not; while any batting average that starts with a “one” is obviously ugly, we know enough by now not to think that it’s the most important offensive stat, and Ellis’ .333 OBP is still 13 points higher than the non-pitcher MLB average. It’s also important to remember that a catcher’s offensive performance is often secondary to how he handles the pitching staff, and it’s easy to think that Ellis deserves a large part of the credit for Beckett’s unexpectedly outstanding first half.

Of course, the complete lack of power — only two players in baseball with as many plate appearances have lower slugging percentages — leads to a 71 wRC+, which is of course poor, and simply saying “look at OBP, not batting average” isn’t going to talk around that. I don’t think Ellis, who was very good at the plate in 2011-12, and acceptable in 2013, suddenly forgot how to hit. I do think it’s pretty clear that he’s probably not really been healthy all season, from the April left knee injury (the same one he had surgery on following 2012) to the May ankle sprain to his current sore right knee, which cost him the weekend after taking a ball off it on Friday. He’s reportedly supposed to be back in the lineup tonight against the Angels, but that of course doesn’t mean he’s fully healthy.

Still, here’s the thing: that 71 wRC+, as lousy as it is, is still the best of the four catchers the Dodgers have used this year. There’s absolutely no one in the organization who can help right now, though we’ll likely see Federowicz as a third catcher in September. There wasn’t really anyone to go after at the trading deadline, and even if there was, it’s very difficult to ask a catcher to come in during the season and learn an entirely new pitching staff in a pennant race. There simply wasn’t really reason or motivation to attempt to upgrade on Ellis; it just wasn’t realistic.

Now, in the offseason, as Ellis looks towards his 34th birthday with an increasing run of leg injuries on his resume, I imagine we’ll have conversations about the future of the position. (As far as starters go, anyway; I do believe that Ellis’ value as another pitching coach out there is enough to earn him a roster spot for years to come as a backup, if he wants it.) But for now, this is what the Dodgers have. It was all they could have, and so the best we can really do is remember that Ellis was pretty valuable in the not-too-distant past, and hope that his health allows him to be once again.


Mike

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Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.


857 comments
InsideThePark
InsideThePark

long live A.J. Ellis. Hopefully he'll get his legs under him down the stretch. No real help in sight.

moneynow27
moneynow27

Trout has 25 HR's and over 80 RBI's with an average over .300....How does this translate into sabermetrics, and are Trout's new math numbers better than Puigs?

FirTree7
FirTree7

lol the doctor's office I'm at blocks imgur.

tpmerrill
tpmerrill

On a different note, ESPN.com rumor central says Kemp could be a prime winter trade candidate.  I don't get it (though a lot has to do with whether or not he continues to play well to finish out the season).  Assuming he does finish strong, then the Dodgers appear to have 1 perennial All-Star (Puig), 1 quality veteran (Kemp), 1 up-and-coming player (Joc), and 2 veterans who appear to be on the downward side of their careers.  For a team that aspires to compete for World Series runs every year, why would they settle for either of the 2 past-their-prime guys and give up any of the others???

Lumpy Space Dodger
Lumpy Space Dodger

@tpmerrill I think it would be difficult for an opposing GM to take a risk on Kemp if he continues to play as well as he has since the AS break (assuming the price the Dodgers are willing to accept escalates accordingly). He has been so tainted with all the bad contract talk that the GM would be excoriated were Kemp to regress at all.

BlueMarvin (Not Freaking Out)
BlueMarvin (Not Freaking Out)

@tpmerrill  I'm starting to think ESPN gets a lot of mileage out of the Kemp trade talks and aren't willing to give up on them (and the clicks) just because the deadline is past.

LA96
LA96

@Hoze meh... better than Haren, though?

moneynow27
moneynow27

Bartolo.......


You da woman for never once wavering in your belief in the real Matt Kemp.  I can't wait to see him kick ass the rest of the year and in the postseason.  Kudos to you.....

Catfishin
Catfishin

Penis maggots are truly the defining issue of our times.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Cutch being out for a month pretty significantly increases Puig's MVP odds.

moneynow27
moneynow27

@DBrim


Sorry it has to be that way given the D-backs immaturity, but Puig may deserve it anyway.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Oblique.

MFYG
MFYG

@DBrim Gibson is basically the cobra kai coach

Mike Petriello
Mike Petriello moderator

I'm going to write a quick post now mostly so you ca all laugh at the photo