COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Dodgers have nine players making more than $10 million in the 2013 season -- but one of the most consistent and valuable players on the team over the past two years has been catcher A.J. Ellis.
Little Money, Big Production
Ellis is making $2 million per season, per the payroll page at True Blue LA. To put this in perspective, it is more than $1 million less than the average MLB salary. It is the same amount that the Dodgers are paying Hiroki Kuroda, who is in his second season with the New York Yankees.
It is less than half of the salary the Dodgers are paying Manny Ramirez, who last played for the Dodgers in 2010. And let's not even mention the terrible Andruw Jones contract that the Dodgers won't finish paying until after next season.
Unlike all these other players, Ellis is contributing to the team.
In addition to playing the most physically demanding position on the diamond, Ellis is among the Dodgers who are on base the most. His .378 OBP, despite a recent slump, is not unusual -- he had a .373 OBP in 2012, his first full season as a starter.
The 32-year-old waited for years for his chance and seized the opportunity, leading the team's position players in WAR, according to Fangraphs, and being one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season.
Can't Spell OBP Without A.J.
Ellis' main skill is getting on base, and he does that by being patient at the plate.
His walk-up music is even "Walk" by Foo Fighters.
Ellis had a 12.9 percent walk rate, second only to Bobby Abreu among Dodgers with 100 or more plate appearances in 2012. And Ellis is picking up where he left off.
His 15.9 percent walk rate actually ranks third, tied with Skip Schumaker, among Dodgers with 30 or more plate appearances, trailing only Juan Uribe and Nick Punto. It is likely that Ellis will continue what he's doing while Uribe, whom I wrote earlier this week, doesn't have a history of high OBP or walk rates. Punto should challenge Ellis for a top walk rate this season, but in many fewer plate appearances.
Ellis Can Play Defense
While no one will confuse Ellis' defense for Yadier Molina or Ivan Rodriguez, he still is a solid backstop.
Ellis does have occasional problems with passed-balls. But he has thrown out 47 percent of those trying to steal, sixth best in the league. This is especially impressive when you see Josh Beckett and Ted Lilly among those Ellis has caught. Both have notoriously slow deliveries to the plate and allow many steals.
The pitchers a comfortable with Ellis behind the plate -- he calls a good game.
Ellis will never be a superstar and at his age, he won't be the future of the franchise. But the catcher is a piece that many teams would love to have -- especially for the price he's being paid.
Matthew Reichbach is a freelance writer and lifelong follower of the Dodgers from their minor league affiliates to the major league club.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @3_2count.
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