In A.J. Ellis's first season as the Dodger's full time catcher, he turned out to be a great value option at the catcher position. While earning $490,000, just $10k above the league minimum salary, A.J. held a .270/.373/.414 line, while clubbing 13 homeruns, knocking in 52 runs and scoring 44 runs of his own. That, kids, is solid per dollar production.
But now in 2013, after agreeing to a one-year, $2 million dollar deal, Ellis has been a bit less productive. While still hitting a respectable .259, he is only on pace to collect 33 RBIs. If he maintains that pace, his incredible dollar value from 2012 will plummet.
However, the thing that impresses me about A.J. is not his ability to produce relatively average offense for a low salary. It's his incredibly conservative discipline at the dish. He currently leads the majors in pitches per plate appearance, averaging 4.45 pitches every time he steps to the plate. On a practical level, he's making pitchers work to get him out, and inflating a pitcher's pitch count is positive for the team (unless it's someone like Justin Verlander... God help us all). On a not practical level, that's just a fun statistic.
Now onto some more specific stats about Ellis's approach the plate. His eye is phenomenal. He currently has the lowest O-Swing% (percent of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) in baseball, with an obscene 16.3%. Where Pablo Sandoval is the freest of swingers (Sandoval swings at 60.2% of all pitches he sees), Ellis is the most selective hitter in the game. He only swings at 53.5% of pitches inside the strike zone, and holds the lowest overall Swing% at 34.8%.
When he swings, Ellis tends to connect with the ball. He makes contact on 90.7% of the pitches he chooses in the zone, good for third best among catchers (Jonathan Lucroy 95.1%, Yadier Molina 91.1%). Ellis also only concedes a swinging strike 5.3% of the time, placing him second among all qualified catchers (again, Lucroy 4.4%).
Sadly, this approach hasn't produced much for him this year, but then again what exactly have any Dodgers produced. The only team they're outscoring right now is the Marlins, and half their starting roster was taught baseball within the last 6 months. Oddly enough Ellis's contributions to the team in terms of runs and RBIs are relatively consistent between 2012 and 2013. Below is a table comparing A.J.'s offensive run scoring contributions over the past 2 seasons. The far right column shows the percent of the Dodger's total runs that can be attributed to Ellis, whether it be scoring or collecting an RBI.
Although there has been a slight drop-off, his overall contributions are relatively consistent. Of course, his 2013 sample size is still small, and there is plenty of time for him to improve his production.
In the mean time, A.J. Ellis is happy, so you should be too.