Under the Radar: Oakland Athletics' Mark Ellis

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Under the Radar: Oakland Athletics' Mark Ellis

Quick, think of the top second basemen in all of the majors.  Did you think of Chase Utley?  I’m sure you thought of Robinson Cano, Placido Polanco or maybe even Aaron Hill or Dustin Pedroia.  Ian Kinsler? Dan Uggla?

Well, there is a player few people think of as one of the best second basemen in the game, yet he’s one of the best all around players at the position.  He’s lost in a small market on the West Coast.  His name is Mark Ellis, and he’s going to be a free agent this year.

Mark Ellis almost has a cult-like following.  He is beloved in Oakland, and respected by announcers across the country.  The first thing visiting teams’ announcers say when Ellis steps in the box is, “this guy is a tough, tough out.”

Still, the casual baseball fan might not have heard of Mark Ellis, or if they have, they might not think much of the 5’11, 180-pounder from South Dakota.

I will argue that because of his great overall performance, Mark Ellis belongs in the same breath as the Robinson Canos, Chase Utleys, and Placido Polancos.

I will do this using several different baseball metrics that evaluate offensive production and defensive production.  Some of the stats you may have heard of, others will be new to you.  I will use the 2007 season as the basis for my arguments.

 

Offense


OPS+


The first stat I will look at is OPS+, which is a simple measure of a players OPS, relative to their ballpark.  The average OPS+ is 100, with the higher the number the better.

Lets take a look at Cano’s, Utley’s, Polanco’s, Uggla's, Kinsler's, Pedroia's, and Ellis’ OPS+ numbers:


Utley = 145

Polanco = 122



Cano = 120

Pedroia = 112

Ellis = 110

Kinsler = 109

Uggla = 108

Hill = 107

So Utley owns all the players in OPS+.  Only four of the players rank higher than Ellis, but Ellis is not that far behind them in this category, especially considering Ellis is not known for his bat.


.EqA


A second stat I will look at is .EqA, which is a stat that measures many offensive contributions from stolen bases to home runs. It judges a player on a scale similar to batting average. .260 is an average .EqA.


Utley = .322

Polanco = .288

Kinsler = .277

Pedroia = .277

Cano = .277

Uggla = .274

Ellis = .269

Hill = .264

Again, to no one’s surprise, Utley owns all the others in this category.  Still, Ellis is not far behind Cano and Uggla. 

 

UVI

A third offensive metric I will look at is UVI, which is a stat developed by Nathaniel Stoltz to judge a player’s total offensive prowess.  It can be read about here.  I will use UVI2, which is adjusted for the players’ home park.


Utley = .584

Uggla = .507

Kinsler = .503



Ellis = .486

Polanco = .483

Pedroia = .469
 

Cano = .453

Hill = .444



This metric finds Mark Ellis in the middle of the pack of elite second basemen, but surprisingly finds him above Polanco and Cano.


Defense

 
Now I’m going to turn to defensive stats.  Defense is Ellis’ specialty, and in my opinion he’s the top defensive second baseman in the league.

This is where Ellis will catch up for his bat, as evident by the stats.  I will not use fielding percentage because it has no indication of a players range.

In fact, you could argue it discourages range because far-ranging plays are harder and thus lead to more errors.
 

Zone Rating

The first stat I will look at is Zone Rating. ZR is a way of looking at how many plays a player makes in his “zone.”

Ellis = .887

Utley = .874

Hill = .849

Cano = .846

Pedroia = .833

Polanco = .824

Kinsler = .819

Uggla = .754

According to this stat, Ellis was the most successful at protecting the “zone” surrounding the second base position.

 

FRAA

Another stat is FRAA, or Fielding Runs Above Average, which is a way of judging how many runs a player saves over the course of a year based on their defense. If the number is negative, then the said player is below average for his position.

Cano = 28



Hill = 25

Ellis = 24

Pedroia = 15

Polanco = 14

Kinsler = 7

Utley =  6

Uggla = -12

Ellis is very close to Cano and Hill in this stat.  Saving 10 runs is said to be equal to “winning” a game for your team.  Basically, Ellis “won” the A’s two and a half games with his defense, and Cano “won” nearly three games for the Yankees.

 

Range Factor

Another common stat used is Range Factor. RF measures how many plays a person makes by counting their putouts and assists.  Though it has its flaws, this stat can still be looked at to find how good a player is, and I believe it to be better than Fielding Percentage.

Kinsler = 5.69

Ellis = 5.45

Cano = 5.22

Hill = 5.13

Utley = 5.10

Polanco = 5.08

Pedroia = 4.88

Uggla = 4.72

According to this stat, Ellis makes the second most plays out of all the second basemen that we’re comparing.

 

Overall Measure

WARP3

Finally, I will look at WARP3, which stands for “Wins Above Replacement Player.” What this stat estimates is how many games a player wins over a replacement player.

A replacement player is measured as the average production for a AAA player.  Accordingly, the larger the number the better the player.


Cano = 11.4

Utley = 10.7

Ellis = 9.9

Hill = 9.9

Polanco = 9.8

Pedroia = 8.4

Kinsler = 7.7

Uggla = 6.5

According to WARP3, Ellis, as an overall player, has higher value than Placido Polanco, and slightly less value than Chase Utley.  Cano is the best second baseman in the league, earning a win and a half more than Ellis over the course of the season.

So after looking at several stats, I think it’s clear that Ellis belongs in the discussion of the best second basemen in all of baseball. I’m not saying he is THE best, but he certainly is close.

When your team signs Mark Ellis this offseason to become the starting second baseman, don’t say, “WHO THE HELL IS MARK ELLIS?”  Instead say, “we got ourselves a damn fine second baseman.”

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