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Friday Rockpile: The Rockies Have Acquired Mark Ellis To Upgrade 2B

Not pictured: Ellis' greatest baseball asset.
Not pictured: Ellis' greatest baseball asset.

So yesterday we found out that the Rockies have indeed made a trade, but not really one that we were COMPLETELY expecting. 

In exchange for RHP Bruce BIllings and a Player To Be Named Later or cash, the Rockies received Oakland's veteran 2B, Mark Ellis. Ellis provides...well, something, to the Rockies' lineup, but I'm not entirely sure what at this point. He's not a power hitter (career .394 SLG), he's not really a gigantic OBP threat (career .331), and he's not some master base thief (career high 14 SB in 2008). He IS, however, a wizard with the glove at 2B, and pretty much all of the defensive metrics agree with that.

But here's the scariest part. We all look at Ellis' uninspiring line and pretty much just think "oh boy, another crappy bat to throw in at 2B. I fail to see the upside" which was basically my response as well. You look at Ellis' pathetic slash line (which sums up to a 54 wRC+) and it just looks like more of the same. Even his WAR is boring - 0.0 fWAR, 0.3 rWAR. Yee doggies, let's start rallyin' up them wins.

Do you realize that Mark Ellis' replacement level (or near) play so far in 2011 is an UPGRADE on the position for the Rockies? Observe this sad table:

Name wRC+ fWAR
Alfredo Amezaga 50 -0.1
Jonathan Herrera 64 -0.1
Jose Lopez 34 -0.2
Eric Young, Jr. 40 -0.4
Chris Nelson 68 -0.6

Before everyone goes nuts, let's remember that there's some small sample size stuff to deal with, but seriously, we're 81 games into the season, and that's what we've had to put up with. Granted, they didn't all play 2B the entire time, but considering that they DIDN'T play 2B the entire time just adds to the fact that none of them have been good enough to hold the roster spot.

To make room for this trade, Chris Nelson is the likely candidate to get the demotion to AAA Colorado Springs, Not for lack of upside or whatever, but seeing how the Rockies just traded for a guy, I imagine that guy will be getting the starts for at least a little while here. Nelson doesn't do the team much good on the bench. His skillset is the type that needs to get into a rhythm if he wants to be productive. Starting randomly doesn't do that. The Sky Sox will likely help him re-find that rhythm.

More analysis past the jump!

In the meantime, that leaves the team with Eric Young Jr and Jonathan Herrera to be the other guys who aren't starting at 2B. Young isn't an option at 2B unless painfully necessary. That leaves Herrera as the option at 2B when Ellis isn't starting, or in double switches or whatever.

So the next reaction for the Rockies fan who wants to try and put a good spin on acquiring a minuscule bat like Ellis' is to crunch some numbers and pick out anything that might be signs of improvement. Let's put it this way, there aren't many.

One thing that Ellis DOES have going for him, however, is the same potential that everyone was hoping for in Jose Lopez: BABIP regression/boost. Leaving the Oakland Foul Territory and coming into Coors Field should give Ellis some sort of boost, but again, we had that hope with Lopez, and that didn't really work out.

The thought on the trade, as Joe Sheehan ponders, is if Ellis REALLY is an upgrade over the Rockies current options, namely Nelson. Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated asked that exact question yesterday on Twitter. With Nelson out of the picture, presumably, the question changes to "Is Mark Ellis better than Jonathan Herrera?"

Right off of the bat, I'm going to say Yes. Not because of some irrational Herrera hatred, but just because I see him as a better glove, and if the Rockies are going to just give up on offense at the position, I'd rather have Ellis there than just about anybody else available. Herrera's defense is far from a problem, despite the defensive metrics not having much good to say about his fielding at 2B, but it's nowhere near the boost that Ellis' is. 

But back to the bats. Some people think that Ellis' numbers are going to take a jump moving into Coors, as stated above, purely based on BABIP regression. That raises a new question for me, though: is Johnny Herrera really as bad as his slash line suggests? Obviously we have a small sample on Herrera, so it's hard to really draw a baseline, but if we're going to look at Ellis' .249 BABIP and say "Well that just has to come up", why can we not say the same thing with Herrera? I mean, come on, it may not hit the .330 mark of 2010, but is a .266 BABIP sustainable for Herrera?

Either way it goes, don't expect fireworks from Ellis. It's a new face in a new park for the first time ever, so let's give the guy a bit of leeway if he doesn't bat .500 right out of the gates. Give it a little bit, just to see what the veteran is swinging, and then we can start trying to draw some conclusions. I will, however, say that I don't like the idea of Ellis batting 2nd in the lineup. Tracy might surprise us and bat him something like 7th, as he should, but Ellis has batted pretty much everywhere in the batting order for at least 100 starts in every slot except for 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

Last thought: I don't think the Rockies are done making moves yet this season. Ellis isn't exactly an impact player, and if you read Dan O'Dowd's quotes in Jim Armstrong's rundown of the acquisition, he's pretty "meh" about the trade as well. This isn't O'Dowd's grand scheme to fix the Rockies, and he pretty much admits that, but it's trying something new at a position where nothing seems to work.

It's a move to bring another Veteran into the fold, hopefully providing guidance and all of those other good things, but it's really just trying something new. He's a pretty solid individual from what we've read, so he'll fit in well with a club that's high on character.

I mean, who knows. Maybe he'll surprise us and be terrific and be like Casey Blake has been for the Dodgers, just without the epic beard and losing a Carlos Santana level player.