Reliable Mark Ellis Suits Changed Context


When the St. Louis Cardinals optioned second baseman Kolten Wong to Memphis in late April, the prospect of Mark Ellis playing that position every day didn’t start hearts to flutter. Fans expected speed and defense to be improved in 2014. Early in the season fans had high expectations for the offense, and hoped that the injection of a young player would help in the aforementioned departments. In short, the loss of Wong’s potential dynamism seemed to highlight the lackluster performance of the hitters as a unit.

How much Kolten Wong’s recent left shoulder injury can be attributed to his own stubbornness or team injury mis-management is not known. What is likely is that he could be out of action for a long chunk of time. Wong is supposed to get a second opinion on his injury today.

With the loss of two starting pitchers, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha, both of whom went on the disabled list on Sunday with differing shoulder problems, it may be time to appreciate what’s on hand. Mark Ellis may be a port in a storm for this team.

Ellis has never had power. He doesn’t get on base a lot now, but it should get better, as his batting average on balls in play is just .226. He walks at a slightly below average rate. But he also strikes out slightly less than most players. He “handles the bat well” in the stereotypical sense, as he is adept at bunting and hitting the other way, things Mike Matheny has called on him to do recently.

On Sunday, Ellis executed a safety squeeze, allowing Jhonny Peralta to score from third base. The pitch was high and tight, but Ellis was able to put the ball down in fair territory on the right side. He hit a two-out single to right later in the game, scoring Yadier Molina.

Mark Ellis is still a fine second baseman. Joe Sheehan wrote that he and Cliff Pennington were the best double play combination three years ago. Per baseball-reference, he is on pace for 17 defensive runs saved this season. Most of his value is tied up in his fielding contributions. The Los Angeles Dodgers pressed Ellis into extended exposure in both 2012 and 2013, and they liked what he offered. Profligate in other areas, the Dodgers are trying to save on the bench this year, having cut loose Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, and Ellis after the 2013 season.

Ellis has stolen four bases without being caught. He’s not fast, and he is not an especially good base runner. However, his instincts in the field and while at first base are universally recognized as good.

Redbird Rants wrote recently that pitchers must lead the way for the St. Louis Cardinals, in light of the offensive struggles and the proven quality of the pitching. Lance Lynn, and Matt Adams, led the way Monday night. In the context of the simultaneous loss of Garcia, Wacha, and Wong, it’s fascinating how different it feels to have Mark Ellis available for everyday duty, batting eighth.