COMMENTARY | After letting Russell Martin walk in free agency following the 2010 campaign, the Los Angeles Dodgers struggled behind the plate in 2011. The combination of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro vastly underperformed, leaving L.A. fans clamoring for production from their backstops.
Who would save the Dodgers and bring the catcher's spot back to relevance? A career minor-leaguer with just a couple cups of big-league coffee who possessed a keen eye at the dish and a charismatic persona off of the diamond: A.J. Ellis.
A.J. impressed in limited time in 2011, putting up a .271/.392/.376/.765 line with a .352 wOBA. He got the starting nod the next season and cemented himself as an integral part of the Dodgers' lineup and organization, a post-30 player who fought to make the majors and made the most of his opportunity when he was finally given a chance.
A.J. has become a fan-favorite and a player loved by Blue Crew fans around the world for his on-the-field and off-the-field talents.
Between Two Palm Trees
We start off the field with A.J.'s great series of viral videos, entitled "Between Two Palm Trees." If you haven't seen them before, go now. You can find the videos here, as I've written about them previously. You won't regret it. Ellis and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw chat about all sorts of things, and A.J.'s charisma and wit come across from the moment each episode begins.
Rapport With the Pitching Staff
A.J. and the pitching staff get along well on and off the field (as noted above), an important quality every backstop should possess. It's an especially vital characteristic when there's a lot of turnover in a staff, as has been the case in Los Angeles over the last couple of years.
Gets On Base
Ellis has made his offensive name by getting on base at an excellent clip, particularly for a catcher. He owns a career on-base percentage of .363, and he posted a .373 mark in his first full season in the bigs. A.J. has walked in 12 percent of his career major-league plate appearances.
Ellis has seen 4.36 pitches per plate appearance in his MLB career, and he led baseball in the category in 2012. He ranks fourth in 2013 (min. 200 PA) and his ability to extend the count and draw walks makes him a valuable piece to any lineup and a guy more than capable of batting leadoff, as I discussed a while back.
A.J. is active on Twitter; has appeared at both Dodgers' FanFest events to meet fans and sign autographs; has spawned an "A.J. Ellis Facts" website; and is engaging with fans at team events as well as before games.
A.J. Is not Rod Barajas
This one can't be emphasized enough. Plate appearances aren't wasted, there's actual defense behind the plate, and the roster spot occupied by the Dodgers' starting catcher is quite productive.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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