02 November 2013

Should the Orioles Be Interested in Mark Ellis?

Photo via Keith Allison
On Thursday, the Dodgers declined to exercise Mark Ellis's 2014 option of $5.75 million. Instead, he will receive a $1 million buyout and become a free agent. Joe Reisel briefly mentioned Ellis in part two of his second base review in Camden Depot's Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 offseason series. At the time (mid-October), Ellis seemed likely to return to the Dodgers. And then on October 21, the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal. Guerrero is expected to take over the team's second base duties.

Ellis joins an underwhelming collection of 2014 free agent second basemen. After Robinson Cano, far and away the best option (the Rays hold manageable 2014 and 2015 club options for Ben Zobrist), teams looking to upgrade at the position get to choose from Omar Infante, Nick Punto, Ellis, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts. There are others, certainly, but those are the best of a thin group. But Joe sufficiently tackles this topic in his piece linked above, so let's focus on Ellis, who is now an option.

Last season, Orioles' second basemen combined to hit .236/.299/.376. The majority of the innings at the position went to Roberts (.249/.312/.392) and Ryan Flaherty (.224/.293/.390). Alexi Casilla also received 125 plate appearances and appeared in 62 games, but his $3 million option for 2014 is expected to be declined (as it should be). Overall, Roberts was about average defensively (2.0 UZR; 0 BIS runs saved above average) while Flaherty (5.9 UZR; 3 BIS runs saved above average) was pretty good, though neither played a full season (and even a single season of defensive data doesn't say all that much anyway).

For his career, Ellis is a .265/.330/.390 hitter who plays strong defense. He has never finished with a UZR at second base below 1.4, with his peak coming in 2008 with a UZR of nearly 15. In 2013, Ellis hit .270/.323/.351, and it seems like his days of producing a slugging percentage close to .400 are over. In 126 games, he collected just 21 extra-base hits (13 doubles, 2 triples, and 6 home runs). His isolated power of .081 was also the lowest of his career (career average of .125).

2002 25 OAK 98 404 .272 .359 .394 .753
2003 26 OAK 154 622 .248 .313 .371 .684
2004 Did not play in major leagues (Injured)
2005 28 OAK 122 486 .316 .384 .477 .861
2006 29 OAK 124 500 .249 .319 .385 .704
2007 30 OAK 150 642 .276 .336 .441 .777
2008 31 OAK 117 507 .233 .321 .373 .694
2009 32 OAK 105 410 .263 .305 .403 .708
2010 33 OAK 124 492 .291 .358 .381 .739
2011 34 TOT 132 519 .248 .288 .346 .634
2011 34 OAK 62 233 .217 .253 .290 .544
2011 34 COL 70 286 .274 .317 .392 .708
2012 35 LAD 110 464 .258 .333 .364 .697
2013 36 LAD 126 480 .270 .323 .351 .674
11 Yrs 1362 5526 .265 .330 .390 .720
162 Game Avg. 162 657 .265 .330 .390 .720
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/2/2013.

In 2013, the MLB average second baseman had a slash line of .257/.316/.376. That's basically what Ellis is -- a league-average-hitting second baseman with solid defensive skills. Like Roberts, Ellis is 36. Unlike Roberts, Ellis will command more money but is a far more reliable player. Ellis has played in at least 105 games in every season since 2005; Roberts hasn't played in more than 59 games since 2009.

Flaherty, at minimum, will be on the O's opening day roster as a utility infielder next season. It's an entirely different question of whether he should be the team's everyday second baseman (I would argue no). If the Orioles decide to bring Roberts back, it probably wouldn't cost much (considering the injury and familiarity factors). But if Ellis were open to signing a relatively cheap one-year deal, that may be the superior move.

Roberts coming back for cheap seems like a win-win. If he could just do what he did in 77 games last season, that would be adequate production. But, as all Orioles fans have learned the last few seasons, relying on Roberts to stay healthy for an entire season is a mistake. That's an easier pill to swallow when he isn't signed for $10 million per season, but the Orioles are also contenders now. They need a decent option at second, or at least an OK fallback plan. Maybe that all depends on how the team views Flaherty. Anyway, if the money isn't far off, I favor Ellis over Roberts.


Triple R said...

I always knew Ellis was good, but I never knew he had a career batting average in the Cobb-Hornsby range.

Stuart Wallace said...

I agree that if the money/terms were right, Ellis would be an upgrade over Roberts, at least defensively -- both DRS and UZR consider Ellis to be an above average defender. However, Roberts does provide a more dynamic offense, in the form of more power and stolen bases, that would need to be theoretically picked up by other in the lineup.

That being said, Flaherty had pretty good defensive numbers at 2B, but does suffer offensively, at least outside of raw power numbers. Do you think making him a full-time 2B would allow Flaherty to improve offensively, or do you still see him better off as a utility guy?

Liam said...

Roberts stole 3 bases in 77 games this year, so I'm not sure the speed factor is really there anymore- his doubles rate was also down a ton from his career norm. His defense is significantly better, though, and he's obviously a much better bet to stay healthy.

I think he'll get a little more money than Roberts and there's a certain sentimental attachment to Roberts for all he's done in the past, but if the goal is to put the best possible product on the field in 2014 you have to go with Ellis.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I think he's better off as a utility guy, but if he is truly an above average second baseman defensively, the Orioles could do worse than plugging him in at second for most of the season. But I wouldn't feel too comfortable doing that.

One of the encouraging signs for Flaherty last season was the increased walk rate (and slight decrease in strikeouts). Could his offensive numbers keep improving slightly? It's possible, but I'm not sure I'd bet on it. Then again, I'm not a huge Flaherty fan anyway (http://camdendepot.blogspot.com/2013/04/ryan-flaherty-is-not-answer.html).