A.J. Ellis Has Legs, Hit A Homer

You can file this under “things that are ultimately meaningless but nice to see anyway,” A.J. Ellis hit a homer against Milwaukee yesterday. In and of itself, that’s maybe not that memorable. Alex Guerrero hit a homer too. O’Koyea Dickson has two. Darnell Sweeney and Kyle Jensen also have dingers. Hitting homers in Arizona, well, it’s just not unheard of.

Dodgers @
Goodyear, Ariz.

Still, after his absolutely woeful 2014 — .191/.323/.254 and 72 wRC+, woof — and all the hoopla over Yasmani Grandal coming over in the Matt Kemp deal in large part to fix that catching problem, it’s hard not to see this and smile.

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I’m pretty sure I said a few times last year that the extent of Ellis’ repeated leg injuries (knee surgery, ankle sprain) never really seemed to get enough credit, or blame, or whatever, for his offensive troubles. Ellis recently spoke to ESPN’s Mark Saxon, and that topic came up in a big way:

Q: You altered your off-season workouts?

A: The main thing is I hit the ground running right when the season ended. After we lost to the Cardinals, I said I was going to take the rest of the week and through the weekend and then that following Monday, I was going to start training. Most of us take six weeks off, prescribed by our strength coaches, to let your body recharge after the long season. My thing was I had my six weeks off already when I hurt my knee and couldn’t do anything and hurt my ankle and couldn’t do anything. I think that was a good decision for me. I was able to build a nice base with my legs, especially.

I remember being in Milwaukee near the end of last year and Mark McGwire pulled me aside and said, ‘I want to talk to you about your hitting.’ I’m getting ready for him to talk to me about my hands or my load or my balance and Mark’s like, ‘Your legs are just not strong enough. You need to work on your leg strength.’ To hear him say that, a light bulb went off. I’d been kind of thinking the same thing, but hadn’t been honest enough with myself to say it. I think that definitely had an effect on my results in the postseason. The feeling I had offensively and defensively, I didn’t want to lose that by taking six weeks off. I feel as healthy as I have prior to 2012, my first year as a starting catcher.

It’s important not to get too excited about that, because Ellis does turn 34 shortly after Opening Day, and history isn’t exactly littered with examples of 34-year-old catchers who had big bounceback seasons with limited big league track records and a recent history of leg injuries. But it’s hard to not remember how fun that 2012 season was — .270/.373/.414, 117 wRC+ — and with the much-younger Grandal around, there’s not really a need for Ellis to be catching five or six days a week.

We’ve talked a lot about his value as Clayton Kershaw‘s favorite catcher, and as an extra pitching coach on the field. Those are real things that matter. But not being a zero at the plate matters, too. ZiPS forecasts a rebound to a 95 wRC+. Steamer says 88. Neither are star-level. Neither needs to be. With better health — and don’t forget, one of those injuries was unbelievably fluky, tripping on Drew Butera‘s discarded mask during Josh Beckett‘s no-hitter celebration — and more rest, it’s more than reasonable to expect better performance. That homer doesn’t mean a damn thing on its own. Can’t act like you weren’t happy to see it, though. You were. You know it.

About Mike Petriello

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