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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Better Know a Red #26 - Jason Ellison

Last week, the Reds acquired RHB OF Jason Ellison from the Seattle Mariners off of waivers. Let's take a look at him:

Ellison was a 22nd-round selection by the San Francisco Giants in the 2000 amateur draft out of Lewis-Clark State College, an institution that also counts former closer Keith Foulke among their alumni (as an aside, Jason Bay was also selected earlier in that round by the Montreal Expos--that's one heck of a steal!). Ellison was initially advanced at a slow and steady pace, and showed fair performance for a mid/late round pick in the low minors. Then, in 2002, he made the leap from A+ ball to AAA and held his own. He made his major league debut in 2003 at age 25, and got significant playing time for the 2005 Bondsless Giants.

Unfortunately, he did not perform well when given that opportunity, and in '06 was relegated to the role of Barry Bonds' designated late inning pinch runner. As a result, he had the very rare distinction of appearing in more games (85) than he had at-bats (81)! Acquired by the Mariners in return for a minor league pitcher near the start of this season, he has had little playing time in Seattle, who ultimately allowed him to depart via waivers to the Reds.

Recent Stats:
Year/Team Age PA %K %BB %LD BABIP AVG OBP SLG ISO OPS PrOPS SBRns VORP
2004/SF-AAA 26 549 12% 7% --- 0.348 0.315 0.368 0.459 0.145 0.827 --- -0.9 11.4
2004/SF 26 4 25% 0% 67% 0.500 0.500 0.500 1.250 0.750 1.750 1.885 0.4 2.4
2005/SF-AAA 27 41 22% 5% --- 0.310 0.237 0.293 0.289 0.053 0.582 --- 0.0 -3.8
2005/SF 27 380 12% 6% 17% 0.292 0.264 0.316 0.361 0.097 0.677 0.691 -0.4 -1.0
2006/SF-AAA 28 210 10% 7% --- 0.448 0.406 0.452 0.536 0.130 0.989 --- -0.6 24.8
2006/SF 28 88 16% 6% 10% 0.242 0.222 0.273 0.383 0.160 0.655 0.676 -0.6 -3.4
2007/SEA-CIN 29 52 27% 2% 18% 0.351 0.255 0.269 0.255 0.000 0.524 0.551 -0.9 -4.0
Ellison's best performance of his career, at any level, was his 2006 tear through the Pacific Coast League AAA Fresno. Unfortunately, the 0.989 OPS he posted there seems to have been substantially affected by an extraordinarily high BABIP (0.448), requiring us to look more closely at his 2004 Fresno performance and his 2005 season in San Francisco to get some idea of what he is capable of as a hitter.

What those stats reveal is a guy who makes good contact, but but doesn't walk much either. While he flashed good doubles-power in AAA, his power has been virtually absent at the major league level in over 500 plate appearances. He's not a particularly good singles hitter either, with a MLB line drive rate around 17%. He has some speed, stealing 27 bases in '04 with Fresno and 14 bases with the Giants in '05. But as is so often the case, his success rate, while not horrible, has been bad enough that his base-stealing escapades have actually cost his teams more runs than they've produced.

One place we might hope to see exceptional performance from a player like Ellison is his defense. Here are his career major league defensive performances according to UZR, through May of this year:
pos expOuts runs_range runs_fldErr runs_othErr runs_total G Innings
LF 35 0 -1 0 -1 19 217
CF 205 1 0 -1 0 81 657
RF 51 0 0 0 0 26 289
Ellison has been dead-on average defensively at all positions. I would qualify that assessment, however, with the observation that our best sample size is in center field, indicating that he would probably be above average in the corner positions with additional playing time.

Now, being an average center fielder certainly isn't a bad thing, especially for the defensively challenged Reds. But when combined with his performance at the plate (career VORP = -6 runs) you get a picture of someone who is essentially the definition of a replacement player. And at 29, he's unlikely to get a whole lot better.

That's ok, of course. He was, after all, acquired via the waiver wire, and probably is about on par with someone like DeWayne Wise to fill in the 5th outfielder spot on the club for the time being. Just don't expect a whole lot from him.