Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Loss of Mark Ellis is a Big One

(photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Today it was announced that Mark Ellis inked a one-year deal with the Cardinals.  That’s an appreciative fan base that is going to love this guy.  Ellis is a player that plays the game about as fundamentally sound as any we’ve witnessed.

There are very few second basemen in the majors that are as professional as Mark Ellis.  He does nothing flashy.  He just goes out there and makes plays on balls hit his way.  There’s not a lot of “spectacular” there with Mark, but “consistent” and “steady” go a long way in a 162 game season.  You won’t see him as a power threat with the bat or a guy that will pound out 200 hits in a season, but I guarantee you, if the ball needs to be hit to the right side of the field, Ellis was that guy who would get it done.

Mark Ellis at 37 years old was seen as expendable, and it’s understandable that the Dodgers are taking the stance with players approaching the big 4-0.  But this loss hurts.  It will especially hurt if Alexander Guerrero struggles defensively while playing at his new position this coming season.

There are few defensive positions on the diamond that influence the game as much as second base.  Yes, I know.  There are those that will say I’m crazy and that catcher and shortstop carry more weight, but I can’t help be go back to the coolest college course I ever attended back in 1979, called the “Theory of Baseball.”  I’ve mentioned it before in a past a few years back.  This was a class worth one credit and taught by CSULA’s head baseball coach at the time, a crusty old timer with a lot of managerial and playing experience that dated back to the 1930s named Jack Deutsch.  

Deutsch swore up and down that aside from catcher, the second baseman was your most important defensive player on the team.  He claimed he was the game controller.  The guy that picked off signs and the nuances of the game that often aren't noticed.  The QB of the infield he called him.  “A veteran second baseman that knows what he’s doing will save your team runs,” he said.  His positioning on cut off plays, his relaying of signs to other players, his footwork at second base and turning of the D.P., his ability to steal outs through the quick application of tags on stolen base attempts.  All of this was viewed as influential to getting additional outs, which is the name of the game on defense.

Think about your championship teams.  How many had key defensive second basemen in place that played an influential role in their team’s success?  Both offensively but especially defensively.  Joe Morgan, Dustin Pedroia, Willie Randolph, Bobby Richardson, Jackie Robinson, Dick Green, and Billy Martin led teams to multiple championships.  All were stellar defensive specialists with baseball IQs and instincts that can’t be taught.  One hit wonders like Marco Scutaro and that pesky Brian Doyle who broke Dodger fan’s hearts stole championships for their teams and proved influential in leading their teams to a World Championship.
Jackie Robinson turns the double play at Sportsman's Park, St. Louis, 1948. (photo by Jack Zehrt)
Who knows, maybe Alexander Guerrero turns out to be a steady addition to the 2014 Dodgers, but learning a new position on the major league level is usually not a good idea.   Another year of Mark Ellis really couldn’t have hurt much as balls hit his way were pretty much sure thing outs.   Without studying the metrics in detail, I didn’t notice a decrease in his coverage on the diamond.  It should be noted that baseball-reference.com listed his range factor/9 innings at 4.99, which is actually right there with his prime years while playing with the A’s from 2002-2009.  
Want to feel worse about this?  In 239 games over two season, Ellis made 9 errors on the field.  Think about it, 9 errors.  That’s a bad week and a half of Dee Gordon.  

For two seasons we could breath a collective sigh of relief when a ball was hit to the right side of the infield.  That is something that will be missed.  At least I know I’ll miss it.  A few kicked grounders by Guerrero in April and we’ll all be wondering if the strategy to “allow a player to leave one year too early rather than keep him one season too long” was a good idea.


  1. I saw the rational for letting Punto and Schoemaker go but I wanted to see Ellis back. In a nut shell he's a gamer who gives it his all even at the expense of his own numbers. I truely wish him the best. We can only hope now that the Guerrero can handle the position. I also hope the Dodgers keep Gordon and have him working out at 2B as a backup.

  2. What the Dodgers will miss most from Punto and Ellis are their gloves. The Dodgers were fourth best in MLB in 2013 at inducing ground balls so a tight infield defense is really important, especially in late innings in close games.