A.J. Ellis entered 2013 as a key, but underrated, component to the team’s success. He was a player who patrolled a scarce defensive position and could consistently work counts, provide occasional pop, and handle a deep and talented pitching staff. Of course, it was always unlikely that he’d match his stellar 2012 campaign (.270/.373/.414/.787, 13 HR, 3.7 fWAR/3.3 rWAR), particularly in regards to his offensive contributions. However, the decline was steeper than many expected.
A.J. didn’t have nearly as good a season at the dish, hitting just .238/.318/.364/.682 in 115 games. His wOBA and wRC+ have both fallen each of the last three years (.352/.341/.304 & 126/118/95, respectively), though he did miss time due to a strained oblique and saw his BABIP plummet from .329 in ’12 to .269 in ’13. So injury and luck were factors this year, and moving into 2014, A.J. should show improvement with the bat, but now expectations can be tempered a bit.
Defensive metrics for catchers have definitely advanced in the last half-decade, but they’re still not accurate enough to rely on, especially with a one-year sample size. That said, there are a bunch of insights they provide that seem to match the observations of the eye. Ellis led all of baseball in caught stealing percentage at ~44%, and tied for second in number of baserunners gunned down. However, on passed balls and wild pitches, Ellis was third from the bottom among qualified catchers at -2.3 runs (Yadier Molina led with 5.9). Additionally, though not statistical in nature, A.J. didn’t appear to excel at pitch framing. The Dodgers don’t need him to be Russell Martin in regards to framing — though that would help immensely — but improvement in areas besides throwing arm and throwing accuracy would be welcome.
With better health and some luck he could see a rebound in 2014, but even if that never happens, as long as A.J. continues to draw walks and call a good game, he can still be a valuable complementary piece to the club (~2-3 WAR). And of course, he’s still the man who hosts ‘Between Two Palm Trees‘ and calls out Don Mattingly for his incessant bunting fetish.
That should never be forgotten or overlooked. Put a number on that, stat nerds.
Tim Federowicz is your classic no-offense, all-defense backup catcher. FedEx appeared in a career-high 56 games and amassed a career-high 173 plate appearances in 2013, aided by the A.J. injury and Ramon Hernandez being Ramon Hernandez.
Tim hit just .231/.275/.356/.631 with a .266 wOBA, and his career slash line isn’t much better. Yes, he’s sort of young and hit in the minors, but that primarily happened in the hitter-friendly confines of Albuquerque in the PCL, so I wouldn’t put much stock in that. He’s not here to hit, and he’s not likely ever going to, but as long as he can play good defense he’ll be a valuable backup/personal catcher.
Federowicz caught just under 30% of the guys who ran on him, which is more than acceptable for a backup. However, despite the reputation as a clearly better defender, he put up -0.7 runs in terms of blocking pitches, which would result in a -1.8 if given A.J.’s playing time. Anecdotally, I do think FedEx looks more athletic behind the plate, but he’s clearly not a defensive wizard at the moment.
In any case, he’s a cheap backup, and even on a team with a gigantic payroll, that still has value in terms of roster flexibility. So given continued progress, FedEx figures to be a solid reserve catcher that should stick around in that role for years to come.