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Get to know Mark Ellis

The Cardinals may be locked in on Ellis as the backup for rookie Kolten Wong.

Mark Ellis ponders deep thoughts.
Mark Ellis ponders deep thoughts.

The Cardinals are rumored to be focused on Mark Ellis as one of the last players to round out the major league squad. The team is largely complete and so we are left with the work at the margins like bench players and backups. Right now, Daniel Descalso would appear to be the primary backup for both second and third base behind Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter, respectively. Mark Ellis makes a lot of sense with that combination of players.

Ellis is 36 years old, turning 37 in June of next year. He's been around for a long time with a career in the majors dating back to his debut in 2002 with the Oakland Athletics. Ellis bats from the right side, which makes him a more natural backup than Descalso to go with the other left handed hitting starters. Ellis isn't a big guy or a power hitter but more of the throwback, grinder player that fans in St. Louis have a tendency to fall in love with.

That isn't to say that Ellis isn't a good player. Ellis has spent the last two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's put up numbers that are close to league average on offense. Ellis does a lot of things well -- put balls in play, hit some doubles, run the bases well -- but doesn't really excel at any one offensive skillset.

Defensively, Ellis has shown himself to be consistently above average at second base. It's worth noting that over the last three years Ellis has played in 368 games. During only three of those games has he appeared at a position other than second base. Ellis is not a utility man and doesn't have the kind of exposure that would be ideal to act as a backup across multiple positions.

Comparatively, Ellis seems superfluous relative to the other options the Cardinals have for second base using Oliver's projections.

Player wOBA Defense (runs) WAR/600PAs
Matt Carpenter .349 4.7 4.5
Kolten Wong .307 9.9 3.0
Mark Ellis .289 8.5 1.5
Daniel Descalso .294 5.6 1.9
Greg Garcia .304 11.8 2.8

The projections for Garcia seem particularly rosy but they are worth noting. If the Cardinals are interested in Ellis, it's for a few reasons:

  1. Reduced uncertainty - The error bars around projections like Wong and Garcia are much larger than what they are around Ellis. This is mainly because Wong and Garcia lack major league statistics which are more reliable indicators of performance than minor league indicators. That isn't to say the projections are worthless -- just less certain and containing more variance.
  2. Sustain depth - The Cardinals love depth. It's hard to talk about depth in a comprehensive and systematic way but any pursuit of Ellis is reflective of the desire to maintain depth around 2B and 3B should someone be injured or ineffective. Signing Ellis, while already holding on to Descalso, would be the most apparent hedging against the emergence of Wong that the Cardinals' have shown to date.
  3. Platoon advantages - On that list above, Ellis is the only right handed hitter. That's a vulnerability that the Cardinals are trying to address (see: Peralta, Jhonny) and Ellis would go a ways towards mitigating that potential problem.

The question for Ellis is whether he's at a point in his career where back up on a team likely headed for the playoffs is more important than playing time. Ellis might be able to find full time work on another team or a more likely shot at starts compared to a team so vocally in support of giving their rookie second base. The Cardinals were able to attract Peralta in part because of what the club represents beyond the pure dollars of a contact. In order to secure Ellis, they would likely have to rely on those same intangibles.

Mark Ellis makes sense for the Cardinals but the Cardinals might not make sense for Mark Ellis.