Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis is nearing his return from a freak ankle injury. For the Dodgers, this couldn't come at a better time, as their offense needs all the help it can get, and Tim Federowicz has been uninspiring as Ellis’ replacement.
The injury bug has ravaged Los Angeles' lineup. Along with Ellis, Juan Uribe and Carl Crawford have spent time on the disabled list, and Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon are playing through hip injuries.
Ellis’ injury happened in the strangest possible way. The 33-year-old caught his foot in catcher Drew Butera’s mask while celebrating Josh Beckett’s no-hitter, forcing the Dodgers to place him on the 15-day disabled list.
The accident occurred less than two weeks after Ellis' from knee surgery, so he has been active for a mere 15 games in 2014.
Ellis is hitting .170 with four runs scored in 47 at-bats this season, per MLB.com. He isn’t lighting the MLB on fire, but his stats are certainly better than Federowicz. Federowicz is hitting a measly .123 with two runs scored (but somehow has produced five RBI) in 57 at-bats after the Dodgers recalled him from Triple-A Albuquerque.
Butera has been hitting the best out of the group, hitting .216 with 12 runs scored in 102 at-bats. As the only consistently active catcher for Los Angeles, Butera’s health this season has helped the Dodgers’ depth at catcher not completely fall apart. He is a good-but-not-great player at the position and is best suited for a backup role, giving Ellis the edge in appearances.
The Dodgers are 6-9 in their last 15 games, including a shutout loss Wednesday by Johnny Cueto and the Cincinnati Reds. For an offense that is struggling to stay afloat, even a small bump in batting average through Ellis can make all the difference.
However, Ellis is known as a catcher, not a hitter, and that is where he should improve Los Angeles the most.
Ellis can keep a steady ship for the roller coaster Dodgers, despite not being the most athletic at his position. When healthy, he is a workhorse. Eric Stephen of SB Nation pointed out that "Ellis missed 34 games after catching every inning of the first seven games of the year. Dodgers catchers in his absence hit .183/.241/.283 and threw out eight of 28 runners attempting to steal (28.6%)."
Ellis doesn't have any particular attribute that stands out at first glance, like a giant arm or an excellent batting average. What makes him great is his ability to make his pitcher better and manage the pitching staff as a whole.
Ellis calls a great game, as proven by his 3.06 catcher's ERA in 2013, the best in the majors. He also led all catchers with a .444 caught stealing percentage, which is even more impressive considering his lack of arm strength.
The problem is just getting Ellis to stay healthy. If he can avoid more surgeries and freak injuries when he returns, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the rest of the pitching staff will play even better. Ellis' strengths as a game-caller should bolster Los Angeles' defense significantly.
The most magnified of the Dodgers' troubles are on offense. Ellis won’t necessarily score for the Dodgers, yet he can lighten the pressure on their starting lineup by taking hold of the catcher position that struggled in his absence.