Sarah's Take: Ellis is quietly very valuable

Sarah's Take: Ellis is quietly very valuable

Sarah's Take: Ellis is quietly very valuable
Many Dodgers fans moaned when general manager Ned Colletti signed second baseman Mark Ellis this past November.

Ellis, 35, didn't have power or much media appeal. Why did the Dodgers need another aging veteran, who didn't have the best baseball skills? Ellis spent all but a half season with the Oakland A's, so few Dodgers fans knew much about him.

The Dodgers had a young second baseman named Ivan De Jesus, Jr., who was impressive during Spring Training 2009 before breaking his leg. Still in bankruptcy at the time, many Dodgers fans wanted the organization to save its precious funding for a big power hitter, instead of signing a little-known, aging second baseman.

De Jesus, Jr., wasn't ready for the Major Leagues defensively. With Dee Gordon, another young player, playing at shortstop, Colletti must have thought the Dodgers needed a veteran presence to stabilize the infield. Without a regular third baseman, the Dodgers' defense appeared to be weak. A team relying on pitching to be competitive can't win with a weak defense.

I had seen Ellis a few times while he played for the Colorado Rockies, and he played extraordinary defense. Even though he didn't have much power, Ellis often contributed to the offense with timely play. In a brief time watching Ellis, he impressed me as a good team player. When the Dodgers signed him to a two-year contract, I thought, "How interesting!"

Over the years of watching baseball, most serious fans learn teams require both superstars and journeymen to reach the playoffs. Colletti has signed a couple of players who haven't performed well, and many Dodgers fans don't trust his knowledge of baseball. However, the Dodgers have gone to the playoffs three times since he became general manager before the 2006 season. Under the prior ownership, Colletti worked under strict budget restrictions and the Dodgers were usually still highly competitive. Although he has made a few mistakes that have cost the Dodgers, Colletti has done a good job while dealing with trying circumstances.

Coming out of Rapid City, S.D., Ellis has defied the odds becoming a Major Leaguer. He has never caught many headlines. Playing most of his 10-year career in Oakland didn't help him gain fame. When the Dodgers went to Oakland for a three-game series this June, the Oakland organization honored Ellis. Ellis didn't play in the series because he was recovering from a serious leg injury.

While in Oakland, Ellis established the best fielding percentage for a second baseman ever. He has yet to win a Gold Glove. He played more than 70 consecutive error-less games, setting an Oakland record. Although he doesn't make many spectacular highlight-reel plays, he makes all of the routine defensive plays. This benefits his pitching staff by enabling them to pitch to contact.

Since Orlando Hudson left the Dodgers after the 2009 season, they haven't had a good defensive second baseman until Ellis joined them. This forced their pitching staff to work harder and allowed the opposition to score more runs. Coincidentally, the Dodgers haven't been to the playoffs since 2009.

Ellis' superior defense has helped the Dodgers on their way to the second best ERA in the National League. They missed him badly when Ellis missed almost six weeks with an injury that could have cost him his leg and career. The hard-nosed determined player didn't let the serious injury faze him and worked incredibly hard on his rehabilitation to return to the Dodgers.

For many years, the Dodgers have searched for an appropriate No. 2 hitter. Although this position doesn't receive much attention from the media, every team needs a good No. 2 hitter to have a productive offense. He must have an unselfish mindset, because he won't get much glory.

A No. 2 hitter must take pitches, even hittable pitches, to allow the leadoff hitter to steal a base. With Gordon's blazing speed, Ellis must be patient, rather than aggressive, because Gordon can probably successfully swipe second within three pitches.

With a runner in scoring position, Don Mattingly can choose to ask Ellis to sacrifice the runner to third or play hit-and-run. Elliss' main responsibility is to move the runner into the best scoring position that he can. If it means hitting a little ground ball to the right side of the infield, he must do it without worrying about his batting average. This season, Ellis has seldom failed with runners on base.

With no one on, Ellis needs to act like a leadoff hitter. Although he doesn't have much power, he has three home runs, including a two-run homer that won Friday's game.

When Ellis was on the disabled list, many people didn't say how much the Dodgers missed him. They were busy concentrating on the absences of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. However, not having Ellis in the lineup made the Dodgers more reliant on home runs to score, and not having Ellis in the infield weakened the defense.

The Dodgers might have been more affected by the injury to Ellis than any other player who has been on the disabled list this season. His return may allow the Dodgers to bounce back and win the NL West.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at sarahmorris27@gmail.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.