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Mark Ellis is Better than Derek Jeter, and It Makes Me Unhappy
2008-01-16 21:34
by Ken Arneson

Here we have a photograph of Mark Kotsay, who was just traded for two decent prospects, catching a fly ball while Mark Ellis, who neither has been traded nor is rumored to be anytime soon, looks on. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Danes may have been pretty miserable back in Hamlet's day, but today, they are the happiest people in the industrialized world. Why? It's not because they have the best standard of living. It's because they have the lowest expectations.

My giddiness that there still existed a GM desperate enough to both take on damaged goods like Mark Kotsay and give good prospects in return is beginning to wane. And now, as my happiness levels return to normal, I'm beginning to feel like the Mark Kotsay trade is a bad thing for my happiness.

Not because the trade was a bad trade: it was a very good trade for the A's. My problem with it is that now it alters my expectations.

Mark Kotsay had good trade value basically because used to be an excellent defensive player who used to provide average offense, and somebody hoped he might be able to do that again. That was worth two decent prospects.

Meanwhile, here's Mark Ellis. Mark Ellis IS an excellent defensive player (in fact, he's quite possibly the best defensive player in baseball), who DOES provide average offense, and WILL be able to do that again. So how much should that fetch in return?

Apparently, nothing. There are ZERO trade rumors involving Mark Ellis out there--none. Listen, folks, I'm beginning to get rather upset about this.

Mark Ellis, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love Mark Ellis because he's the most reliable baseball player I've ever seen. He never, ever, ever makes a mental mistake. He plays basically flawless baseball, day in, day out. He might not be the fastest, strongest, or flashiest player out there, but he's good enough of an athlete that combined with his mental perfection on the field, he's a very valuable player.

According to Chris Dial's defensive calculations, Mark Ellis saved more runs on defense than any other player in baseball: 24 runs over average. And if you don't want to trust just one defensive statistic to give him the AL Most Valuable Defender award, you can take the average of the various stats, as Lee Panas over at Detroit Tiger Tales has done, and find that by nearly every way you can measure, Mark Ellis was the best defensive second baseman in the American League, saving 19 runs over average. On offense, Ellis had a VORP of 24 runs.

If we add those together (it's a bit of apples and oranges, but they're the fruits at hand, so bear with me) you get a 2007 total of +43 runs. Compare this to, say, Derek Jeter, whose VORP was 53, but defensively was a horrible -27, you get a total of +26.

Now I don't really believe that Mark Ellis is a better talent than Derek Jeter. If Jeter was playing 2B and Ellis was playing SS, their defensive numbers would probably be much closer. But here's the annoying thing:

If the New York Yankees announced that they were hoping to trade Derek Jeter this offseason, ESPN would be providing us updates every hour; Pedro Gomez would be parked outside Jeter's home hoping to get the latest scoop, Peter Gammons and Buster Olney would spend every waking hour calling every GM and assistant GM to see if they had any news about where Jeter might be going, and would be the most visited site on the Internet until the trade actually went down.

Mark Ellis provided 17 more runs of value to his team, is three years younger, and cost $17 million less than Derek Jeter, is everything the just-traded Mark Kotsay is not, is quite clearly available to be had in the right trade and what do we hear?


Meanwhile, Seattle is apparently about to trade 18-24 years of future players for two years of Eric Bedard, and after that goes down, they'd still be playing Jose Lopez at second base, who had a defensive value of +6, and an offensive value of -9. They could improve their team by about five wins by upgrading from Lopez to Ellis, and the only rumored interest we hear from Seattle is that they want to know the price of Joe Blanton. Good luck with that.

I'm sure Billy Beane appreciates the value of Mark Ellis more than anyone, and since Ellis might end up a Type A free agent, perhaps the best course of action is to keep Ellis. If Ellis leaves, the A's get two draft picks, and if he accepts arbitration, fine--he probably provides more value than he'd actually win in arbitration anyway. Defense ain't where the dollars are.

But my point isn't really that Mark Ellis is better than Derek Jeter, or that the A's should trade him, or that other teams should give up their farm systems to get him. I'm perfectly happy to keep him around. But now that I know that damaged goods like Mark Kotsay has an appreciable value around the league, that makes my expectations for Mark Ellis shoot up to the moon. The fact that Ellis still gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield is as rotten as the corpse of Polonius decaying beneath the stairs.

2008-01-17 08:12:50
1.   Knuckles
Luis Polonius?
2008-01-17 08:34:31
2.   williamnyy23
The reason Mark Ellis doesn't attract media attention is because at age 30, he has only played two full seasons. What's more, he has proven to be a very inconsistent hitter and is prone to injury. That doesn't exactly define reliable to me.

Mark Ellis can be a nice player when healthy, but at age 31, he doesn't really rate the kind of attention that you feel he does.

2008-01-17 09:48:34
3.   Ken Arneson
2 I think you've missed my point. That's partly because of the title, which is designed to get attention at the expense of accuracy, so I'll take responsibility for that. So let me rephrase.

I'm not saying Mark Ellis should get Jeter-like attention. I'm saying Mark Ellis was likely the defensive MVP of the AL last year, is a decent offensive player as well, and ZERO attention (which is what he gets) is too low.

Am I wrong to think that Mark Ellis rates some attention that is greater than ZERO?

Also, the injury prone label is unfair. Milton Bradley is injury prone: he can pull a hamstring tying his shoes.

All three of Ellis' career injuries have come from violent collisions, none of which were his fault. The labrum injury from diving and colliding with Bobby Crosby caused him to miss a season and a month or so was the worst one. And by all accounts was Crosby's fault.

Ellis missed a month the next year when an opposing infielder stepped on his thumb with a spike as Ellis slid into second base.

And then he missed the ALCS in 2006 when Joe Nathan threw a 97mph inside fastball that hit his hand against the bat.

He's never pulled a muscle or had back spasms or any of the problems you normally assign to injury-prone players.

2008-01-17 10:28:27
4.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
In 2008, people have limited attention spans, and tend to look for the flashy, the gaudy, and the high-profile as guides to tell them what to pay attention to in those limited moments between sipping the latte and texting their BFF, and reading this blog and driving while talking on their cell phone about ...

Hey... look what just came in on Facebook! See ya...

2008-01-17 10:43:46
5.   doppelganger
Considering that Ellis is extremely underrated, and the A's don't have any good second basemen in the minors, Beane might be planning to keep him around for the 2010-2011 team, or until his glove goes away. Also, Ellis' defense will be instrumental in giving confidence to some of the young pitchers, especially considering the outfield that's reminiscent of the 2000 team.
2008-01-17 11:21:08
6.   Schteeve
ESPN doesn't produce their baseball coverage for people who read and write Bronx Banter or Catfish Stew or whatever, ESPN produces their content for the LCD.

The LCD has no fucking idea who Mark Ellis is, but even people who don't know what baseball is, know that Derek Jeter is like the high priest of New York, and if he is leaving New York then the planets must be careening out of their orbits, and the end times are a-coming.

So yeah, Mark Ellis's deserves more press, but he ain't gonna get it as long as he's Mark Ellis.

Ya know?

2008-01-17 11:39:02
7.   Ken Arneson
6 I know. But again, the real point isn't that Mark Ellis should be anywhere near Jeter on the publicity pole. It's that he should be way, way higher than Mark Kotsay on the publicity pole.

Joe Blanton's 2007 VORP was 46.3. There's a new trade rumor about Blanton every two to three days. Teams want him, blogs of other teams want him, or at least, they want him at the right price. It's in the air. Blanton gets his press.

Ellis produced +46 runs of value, too--actually more, because the defensive measurements were above the average player instead of above replacement. And Ellis gets zero.

2008-01-17 11:50:07
8.   El Lay Dave
There are more reasonable 2B out there than SS or CF, the top 3 non-catcher defensive postions. In 2007, the number of players who played the position at least 81 games and had OPS+ 100 or better vs. under 100:

Pos Over Under
2B: 19 9
SS: 14 16
CF: 9 17

Mark Ellis is underrated, but I think supply and demand works against him, and for Mark Kotsay.

2008-01-17 11:55:44
9.   For The Turnstiles
There's a big part of me that believes that a better informed populace, on almost any subject, somehow makes the world a better place. To that part, the lack of publicity for and appreciation of Mark Ellis among most baseball fans is a major crime against justice and enlightenment.

And there's a part that appreciates that Oakland's ultimate goal is to win a championship, and that that goal would be better served if Ellis had a high trade value and the A's could flip him for some more top prospects. In Moneyball terms, having assets that are undervalued by the market is a detriment when you're trying to sell those assets.

But there's also a part that still wants to enjoy watching the A's play in 2008, even if they have essentially no chance of making the playoffs. And that part of me would be quite happy to have another season of Ellis, both because he's someone I've liked watching a whole lot over the last 5 years (for the reasons listed in your post) and because his presence significantly improves the team's chance of being non-awful.

2008-01-17 12:16:30
10.   Tangotiger
Fans think of Mark Ellis as the best fielding 2B in baseball:

UZR has Ellis as the best fielding 2B from 2003-2007.

I have no doubt that Ellis is that good. Marcel thinks that he's a league average hitter.

That combination makes him one of the best 2B in baseball, and likely the most underrated player in baseball. Ellis' problem is that he's a 2B instead of a SS. No one that good fielding-wise should be a 2B. It's like putting Ichiro in RF.

2008-01-17 12:39:53
11.   Ken Arneson
10 Good point. If Ellis has a weakness, it's that his labrum injury cost him a lot of arm strength, and the long throw from deep short across the diamond is something he'd have a lot of trouble with. He might have been able to switch to SS before that injury, but he's pretty much stuck at 2B now.
2008-01-17 14:24:01
12.   ToyCannon
Orlando Hudson is the NL counterpoint to Ellis and he gets plenty of ink for his defense. It does seem to me that Ellis is very unappreciated in the baseball world. By the time he is appreciated his skills will have deteriorated so that he will be overrated for a while.
Thanks for the breakdown on his injuries, I also thought he was a bit injury prone but it sounds like simple bad luck.
2008-01-17 15:24:30
13.   Rebuilding Season
I'm pretty sure that Mark Ellis has no trade rumors because he's not on the market. Sure, Beane will trade anyone who will get good trade value and is replaceable, but Ellis doesn't quite qualify. Ellis can hopefully use his great baseball knowledge and focus and pass it on to the other guys. The new guys could use at least a little veteran experience, and it seems to me Ellis has a lot to teach. I'm fine with him sticking it out there for a few years.
2008-01-17 17:48:20
14.   Johan
I don't own many jerseys, but when I get one I try to get one of a player who flies under the radar a bit. The last jersey I bought was an Ellis jersey after his rookie season. It may have been the first Mark Ellis custom jersey ever purchased.

Unfortunately, it's one of those spring training ones that is all green with yellow striping through the armpit. It's hideous, and I never wear it.


2008-01-18 03:54:07
15.   williamnyy23
3 I understand your point, but other than be a great glove, Ellis hasn't done anything to stand out. What's more, the defensive metrics that you cite are probably completely unknown by 99% of all sportswriters and fans. In other words, the only people who are going to know Ellis is a true gold glove defender are those who care about defensive metrics and careful eyes who watch him everyday. That's not exactly a big audience.

I understand your point about the injuries too, but still, it does seem like certain players are just prone to getting hurt. Nick Johnson is another example that comes to mind. Perhaps Ellis' superior range is what leads him to have so many collisions?

2008-01-18 06:56:54
16.   Ken Arneson
16 One injury was while on defense, one was while baserunning, and one was while batting. Only the first one had anything to do with his range.

And yes, the sportswriters who care about defensive metrics are few, but watch my next post. Even the ones who do give Ellis ZERO pub.

2008-01-18 09:37:16
17.   devo
Hey Ken,

If you want to compare apples to apples (And just use a better baseline), you should use BRAA instead of VORP.

Ellis 6 BRAA, Fielding +26
Jeter 20 BRAA, Fielding -27

Ellis +32 runs
Jeter -7 runs

Tango, the reason Ellis is at second is because of Bobby Crosby. He was playing there to begin with because Crosby was the anointed heir apparent. He's playing there now because Bobby Crosby (almost literally) took a metal pipe to Mark Ellis' shoulder to ensure that he wouldn't be able to compete with him for the position. Ellis' shoulder did not recover well enough to make the throw from short.

2008-01-21 18:51:17
18.   Zachary D Manprin
Ken - I think the only thing I can add to the discussion is regarding Ellis' injury assessment. I believe it to be flawed. Ellis swung a the tailing fastball that was more than a foot inside.

I think Ellis goes down in A's lore as one of the best ever to wear the green and gold; regardless of position. In 2002 his rookie year he displaced the opening night starter (Randy Velarde), the replacement (Frank Menechino), the penciled-in prospect (Esteban German) and the 2nd baseman they traded for (Ray Durham).

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