The Dodgers Don’t Have Personal Catchers, They Have A Platoon

A narrative that never seems to go away is the idea that A.J. Ellis is Clayton Kershaw‘s “personal catcher,” despite being less of a hitter and a pitch framer than Yasmani Grandal. For the most part, it’s understood — or should be, anyway — that no catcher is going to catch 162 games, so when you use your backup, it might as well be when it makes your ace pitcher happy. That’s led to some “but what happens in the playoffs” talk, but that’s a while away yet.

Ellis didn’t catch Kershaw in his last start, though. Grandal did. He didn’t catch Kershaw’s previous start, either. Grandal did. And that’s continued a pattern that’s worth noting. Don Mattingly isn’t only making catching decisions based on who is starting. He’s doing it based on a simple platoon split. Check out the last month of Dodger games, conveniently starting right when Grandal returned from a concussion and Austin Barnes went back to Triple-A. From the wonderful baseball-reference:

Game (# = Opp. LHS) C P Opp P Opp P H
52. Tue,6/2 at COL W (9-8) Grandal Greinke Hale R
53. Wed,6/3 at COL L (6-7) Grandal Bolsinger Bettis R
54. Thu,6/4 vs STL L (1-7) Grandal Frias Wacha R
55. Fri,6/5 vs STL L (1-2) Grandal Anderson Martinez R
56. Sat,6/6 vs STL W (2-0)# Ellis Kershaw Garcia L
57. Sun,6/7 vs STL L (2-4) Grandal Greinke Lynn R
58. Mon,6/8 vs ARI W (9-3) Grandal Bolsinger De la Rosa R
59. Tue,6/9 vs ARI W (3-1)# Grandal Frias Ray L
60. Wed,6/10 vs ARI W (7-6) Grandal Anderson Hellickson R
61. Fri,6/12 at SDP W (4-3) Ellis Kershaw Despaigne R
62. Sat,6/13 at SDP L (1-2) Grandal Greinke Kennedy R
63. Sun,6/14 at SDP W (4-2) Grandal Bolsinger Shields R
64. Mon,6/15 at TEX L (1-4) Grandal Frias Gallardo R
65. Tue,6/16 at TEX L (2-3) Grandal Anderson Gonzalez R
66. Wed,6/17 vs TEX L (3-5)# Ellis Kershaw Rodriguez L
67. Thu,6/18 vs TEX W (1-0) Grandal Greinke Ranaudo R
68. Fri,6/19 vs SFG L (5-9) Grandal Bolsinger Heston R
69. Sat,6/20 vs SFG L (2-6) Grandal Frias Hudson R
70. Sun,6/21 vs SFG W (10-2) Grandal Anderson Lincecum R
71. Mon,6/22 at CHC L (2-4)# Ellis Kershaw Wada L
72. Tue,6/23 at CHC L (0-1) Grandal Greinke Hammel R
73. Wed,6/24 at CHC W (5-2) Grandal Bolsinger Hendricks R
74. Thu,6/25 at CHC W (4-0)# Ellis Frias Lester L
75. Fri,6/26 at MIA W (7-1)# Ellis Anderson Nicolino L
76. Sat,6/27 at MIA L (2-3) Grandal Kershaw Koehler R
77. Sun,6/28 at MIA W (2-0) Grandal Greinke Urena R
78. Mon,6/29 at ARI L (6-10) Grandal Bolsinger Webster R
79. Tue,6/30 at ARI W (6-4) Grandal Frias De la Rosa R
80. Wed,7/1 at ARI W (4-3)# Ellis Anderson Ray L
81. Fri,7/3 vs NYM L (1-2) Grandal Kershaw Syndergaard R
82. Sat,7/4 vs NYM W (4-3) Grandal Greinke Harvey R
83. Sun, 7/5 vs NYM L (0-8) Ellis Bolsinger Matz L

See a pattern stand out? The Dodgers have faced eight lefties, and Ellis has started seven of those games, even going to far as to start twice in a row against the Cubs and in three out of five games when Tsuyoshi Wada, Jon Lester, and Justin Nicolino came up. Conversely, of the 24 righties in this run, Ellis started only one time, against San Diego’s Odrisamer Despaigne.

That Despaigne game was a Kershaw start, of course, and the two times Grandal caught Kershaw, it was after Ellis had caught the night before (once, the two games before). I’m not saying there’s no truth to the “personal catcher” thing, because there surely is. Ellis has caught 12 of Kershaw’s 17 games this year, which is fully half of his 25 games started. (Interestingly enough, he’s caught only two of Zack Greinke‘s 17.)

So there’s that, but there’s also the platoon thing. 14 of Ellis’ 25 starts have come against lefties, which is 56%. The June 9 game against Robbie Ray was Grandal’s only lefty start, and he’s started 56 games, so under 2%. That’s not a coincidence. Now, whether that should be a thing is another conversation entirely, because limited in-season platoon splits are indicative of nothing. Ellis has had only a minor platoon split over his career, while Dustin had to at least acknowledge (and try to refute) Grandal’s platoon issues in the spring.

Either way, as I said at the top, you’ve got to get the backup in sometime, and there’s worse ways to do it than “keep your ace happy” combined with “might as well take advantage of a rare catcher who can hit lefty.” I don’t know how this is going to play out in the playoffs. But I do know that if Kershaw’s first start is against Jaime Garcia or Gio Gonzalez or some other lefty — which is probably unlikely, since the Cards are going to face the wild card and if the Dodgers get the Nationals, it’ll be Max Scherzer in Game 1 — I’m pretty sure I know who’s behind the plate.

About Mike Petriello

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