Mark Ellis: A Welcome Addition to the Offense

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The offense of the St. Louis Cardinals has struggled against left-handed pitchers over the past few years, and 2013 was no exception. Standard statistics show this pretty clearly. Against lefties, the Cardinals had a .238/.301/.373 slash line. For comparison purposes, the team hit .280/.343/.412 against righties in 2013–a statistically significant difference between the two.

With left-handed hitters, Kolten Wong (second base) and Matt Adams (first base), set to play every day next season, it appears the team may be on its way to another poor season at the plate against southpaws. But Joe, what about your last post in which you said Craig needs to play first base, subsequently moving Adams out of the starting lineup? Well, my projected replacement for the vacated spot (by Craig) in the outfield was Oscar Taveras, yet another lefty bat.

John Mozeliak (General Manager) and Dan Kantrovitz (Scouting Director) know that hitting lefties, for whatever reason, is a problem for the Cardinals. Do they have faith in both Wong and Adams to make the required adjustments to adequately hit left-handers at the big league level? Of course they do. However, they smartly added necessary insurance by signing a veteran right-handed hitting bat in Ellis.

Ellis had a solid .282/.331/.412 slash line in 131 at-bats against lefties last season.  If you include his 2013 numbers with the Cardinals’ numbers against lefties, it would have raised the team batting average three points–from .238 to .241. This may not seem like much, but one player can only do so much to influence a team’s overall average. In fact, it would have taken the team from 13th in the NL in batting average against lefties all the way up to the 8th spot in the league.

Ellis is getting older. I get it. He will turn 37 in June next season, and we all expect age-related decline to be in full effect. A .282 average against lefties is a vast improvement for the offense of the Cardinals. However, as many baseball minds would ask, considering his age, was that a hard .282 or a soft .282? In other words, with one season (131 at-bats) being a pretty small sample size, was he lucky to have such a solid average? Were bloop hits falling in front of outfielders or were seeing-eye singles finding holes through the infield?

The graph below (from BrooksBaseball.net) puts this notion to rest. Ellis, at the age of 36, was still smacking line-drives all over the diamond against lefties in 2013–especially on pitches in the outside portion of the strikezone.

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

Photo Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

In 117 balls-in-play against lefties in 2013, 33 of them were line-drives. This is good for 28.2%. To break it down a tad further to accentuate a strength of his, Ellis’ LD% was an incredible 39.4% (13/33) on pitches in the outside portion of the strikezone. This implies an approach at the plate of “shooting the ball the other way”–an approach that will fit in quite nicely under hitting coach, John Mabry.

The top two overall LD%’s in 2013 were 29.8% by James Loney and 27.7% by Gregor Blanco/Joe Mauer. Thus, Ellis appears to be at the top of the league when it comes to LD%. Obviously, this only applies to his balls-in-play against lefties, but if things go as planned with Wong, the majority of Ellis’ at-bats will come against lefties.

Will he stunt Wong’s development by participating in a full-on platoon at second? I sure hope not. I truly believe Mozeliak moved Freese in order to give Wong a spot in the starting lineup. However, Wong is just 23-years-old and has yet to participate in a full 162-game season. A 162-game season can be long and grueling on a player–especially a high-energy player like Wong. Ellis is the perfect complement second baseman for the rookie. He can give Wong days off (especially with a lefty on the mound) to preserve his legs for the duration of the season.

Also, there is a still a pretty big part of the fan-base that doubts Wong’s ability of being an everyday second baseman. If he continues to struggle like he did in part-time action last season, Ellis will be primed and ready to fill in on a more regular basis. In short, the extent of Ellis’ playing time with the Cardinals is yet to be seen. However, it is nice to see that he is still hitting line-drives at a top-of-the-league percentage against lefties at this point in his career–a welcome addition to the offense of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Until next time…

Joe

For more updates, follow me on Twitter: @stlCupofJoe or Facebook: stlCupofJoe’s Sports Page.

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