With the Signing of Mark Ellis, the St. Louis Cardinals Have Completely Revamped Second Base for 2014

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals had the National League's best second baseman in Matt Carpenter. The club's signing of Mark Ellis all but ensures that Carpenter will not play much second base at all in 2014.

The St. Louis Cardinals have reached an agreement with free agent second baseman Mark Ellis on a one-year contract, as first reported (in my Twitter timeline, at least) by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The deal becomes final once Ellis passes a physical exam. As of this writing, the amount of money the Cardinals will pay Ellis for the 2014 season had not been announced.

Ellis broke into the big leagues over a decade ago with the Oakland Athletics. Ellis has had a nice career, especially taking into account that he missed the entirety of the 2004 season after suffering a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum in a collision with his teammate Bobby Crosby. He is a classic proven veteran and will bring the type of punchless batting and overall grittiness to the middle infield that Cardinals fans love.

MARK ELLIS: CAREER BATTING STATS

Year

G

PA

HR

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

fWAR

2002

98

404

6

.272

.359

.394

.753

.122

.335

106

2.5

2003

154

622

9

.248

.313

.371

.684

.123

.300

80

1.7

2004*

0

0

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

2005

122

486

13

.316

.384

.477

.861

.161

.376

135

4.3

2006

124

500

11

.249

.319

.385

.704

.136

.309

84

2.0

2007

150

642

19

.276

.336

.441

.777

.165

.340

107

4.0

2008

117

507

12

.233

.321

.373

.694

.140

.310

89

3.0

2009

105

410

10

.263

.305

.403

.708

.141

.309

86

1.1

2010

124

492

5

.291

.358

.381

.739

.089

.329

106

3.0

2011

132

519

7

.248

.288

.346

.634

.098

.282

67

1.0

2012

110

464

7

.258

.333

.364

.697

.106

.312

98

2.7

2013

126

480

6

.270

.323

.351

.674

.081

.300

92

1.8

Total

1362

5526

105

.265

.330

.390

.720

.125

.318

95

27.1

Now soundly in his decline phase, Ellis is unlikely to post above-average batting lines ever again. However, he doesn't need to because of the position he plays. Ellis has posted a wRC+ higher than the MLB average for second basemen in three of the last four seasons. That being said, Ellis is another year older entering 2014 and is a good bet to see his batting production dip below the league average for second baseman this coming season.

What separates Ellis from former sad St. Louis second sackers like Skip Schumaker and Aaron Miles is that he can actually play defense. And not just at an acceptable level. Ellis is a very skilled glove man, even now as he enters a season that will see him turn 37.

I've collected the various fielding stats for Ellis during each of his MLB seasons. I've included fielding percentage, TotalZone, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 Games (UZR/150). A primer on each has been linked in their respective names or abbreviations. You may also want to read this well-written guide to defensive stats at Sports on Earth by Christopher Cwik. Conveniently enough, Ellis was a rookie in 2002, the first year for DRS and UZR, so Fangraphs has fairly detailed fielding stats for him throughout his career.

MARK ELLIS: CAREER FIELDING STATS AT 2B

Year

Innings

Fielding %

TotalZone

DRS

UZR

UZR/150

2002

732.2

.978

1

-

1.4

2.5

2003

1297.2

.982

7

17

5.0

5.0

2004

-

-

-

-

-

-

2005

972.0

.989

11

8

6.5

9.7

2006

1070.0

.997

0

15

7.7

10.5

2007

1322.0

.994

17

13

9.9

8.7

2008

1011.2

.993

10

23

14.8

20.8

2009

906.2

.990

5

2

1.4

2.1

2010

986.1

.995

8

8

7.6

9.8

2011

1054.2

.995

6

17

6.4

7.6

2012

910.1

.994

10

10

11.0

18.3

2013

950.0

.989

5

12

5.4

7.8

Total

11,214.0

.991

86

125

77.1

9.1

Ellis is one of those players where the various fielding metrics agree. No matter the stat, Ellis is an above-average defender at second base. In each of the last four seasons, he has been worth at least five runs with his glove alone; or, half of a win. (By TotalZone, Ellis has been worth about 1.5 wins on defense along each of the last three seasons.) Combine Ellis's fielding prowess with his solid if unspectacular batting and you have a nice player.

I elected to only include Ellis's defensive stats for second base even though he has played a smidgeon of first base, a bit of third, and some shortstop. Ellis has played one-third of inning at third base since the end of 2002 and no innings at shortstop since the conclusion of 2005. Simply put, the sample sizes for his defensive endeavors at these positions are too small to be meaningful. Even if the sample sizes were larger, Ellis's exploits at short and third occurred too long ago to have much, if any, predictive value.

Sitting here today, neither you nor I know how Ellis might take to either shortstop or second base. While I wouldn't be surprised to see Matheny play Ellis at third, I'd be shocked if the aging veteran ever manned shortstop outside of an emergency that occurred in the sixteenth inning of a weird baseball game. While Ellis might be able to play some third base in 2014, it's clear that the Cardinals have signed themselves a second baseman.

After returning from labrum surgery in 2005 and through 2013, Ellis has not played fewer than 105 games in a season or less than 410 plate appearances. Yet it appears that the Cardinals have inked Ellis to be a righthanded-batting platoon partner for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. On Thursday, as MLB's annual Winter Meetings wound down, Goold reported as much in the pages of the P-D:

As they met this week with agents for free-agent infielders who have caught their eye this winter, the Cardinals acknowledged that whatever they could offer in salary or interest they couldn't match in the key part of any sales pitch.

They don't have playing time to guarantee.

They have a rookie who will be getting that.

"When they're looking at true opportunity, they know that Kolten Wong exists," general manager John Mozeliak said. "And they know our intentions are for him to play."

Mozeliak's quote from the Winter Meetings echoed the sentiment he expressed shortly after the trade that sent 2011 October hero David Freese and Fernando Salas, a key player in his own right that championship season, to the Angels in exchange for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk: Wong notching 500 at-bats in 2014 is the organization's expectation for its 2011 first-round draft pick. Wong's pedigree, minor-league performance, and projections make this a good plan.

Right now, there are three projection systems that have made their forecasts for the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals public: Steamer, Oliver, and ZiPS. Each is available at Fangraphs. The following charts show the three projections and their averages for Wong and Ellis.

WONG 2014 PROJECTIONS

Projection

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

Def.

WAR

Steamer

556

.269

.322

.388

.710

.118

.312

2.7

2.0

Oliver

600

.265

.318

.378

.696

.113

.307

9.9

3.0

ZiPS

555

.266

.316

.380

.696

.114

.309

3.0

2.3

Average

570

.267

.319

.382

.701

.115

.309

5.2

2.43

ELLIS 2014 PROJECTIONS

Projection

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

Def.

WAR

Steamer

593

.254

.312

.356

.668

.101

.297

5.5

1.4

Oliver

600

.250

.311

.335

.646

.085

.289

8.5

1.5

ZiPS*

430

.252

.311

.343

.654

.091

.292

7.0

1.6

Average

541

.252

.311

.345

.656

.092

.293

7.0

1.5

*A special thanks to ZiPS creator Dan Szymborksi for being kind enough to tweet out the ZiPS projections for Ellis in St. Louis.

Yesterday, Azru put together a nice introduction to the Ellis and the rationale behind the Redbirds' pursuit of the former Dodger. In it, he made mention of error bars. Basically, Wong's projections for 2014 are more volatile than Ellis's because of their comparative MLB track records. Wong's lack of MLB playing time means he is more likely to greatly outperform or severely underperform his projections than Ellis is his. On the flip side of the projection coin, because of his long track record in the big leagues, Ellis is more likely to produce at a level close to his forecasts than Wong is his.

Wong's projections forecast a more valuable player in 2014 than Ellis. That's why the Cardinals have signed Ellis as a backup or complement to Wong as opposed to a replacement. Nonetheless, Ellis provides the Cards with some nice second-base insurance should Wong struggle too badly. Decent batting and plus defense is a nice backup plan at the keystone for 2014.

This is not to say that Ellis will play sparingly in St. Louis. The appeal of a platoon at second base using Wong primarily against opposing righthanders and Ellis against opposing southpaws becomes clear when one looks at the players' respective splits. I used the splits available at Minor League Central for Wong. Those shown are his minor-league stats combined throughout all levels. I used Fangraphs for Ellis's stats, which are for his career.

WONG: CAREER MINOR LEAGUE SPLITS

Split

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

vs. RHP

904

.309

.378

.463

.841

.154

-

Overall

1260

.302

.366

.447

.813

.145

-

vs. LHP

356

.285

.337

.408

.745

.123

-

ELLIS: CAREER MLB SPLITS

Split

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

vs. RHP

4081

.262

.324

.377

.700

.115

.311

Overall

5526

.265

.330

.390

.720

.125

.318

vs. LHP

1445

.276

.348

.429

.777

.153

.339

If Matheny is able to deploy Ellis and Wong in a way that leverages their platoon advantages, the Cardinals could have a keystone combo that is well above-average on offense and defense. That's not to say that Ellis and Wong will combine to be as good overall at second base in 2014 as Matt Carpenter was in 2013. They likely won't. However, it's very possible that, by playing the platoons, the Cardinals could get production from Wong and Ellis that is better than their overall projections forecast and provides more value overall at second in 2014 than Freese provided at third in 2013. With Carpenter taking over at his natural position of third base and the Wong/Ellis combination at second, the two positions just might be a net improvement for el Birdos over a year ago.

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