Los Angeles Dodgers: Solving problems behind the plate

Los Angeles Dodgers

Despite a winning smile, the catchers position has been the weakness for the Dodgers this season

When you look at the roster for the 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers, you see some of the biggest names in the sport today.

Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez. Despite injury concerns, the Dodgers have over $238 million invested in the talent on the field. The team should, in theory, be basically flawless.

There is one glaring hole in the Dodgers lineup however.  They have gotten virtually nothing out of the catcher’s spot. Starter A.J. Ellis was hitting .167 in seven games before making a trip to the DL. His backup, Tim Federowicz, is hitting .100 in 11 games as the Dodgers’ primary catcher since Ellis’ injury. Third string catcher Drew Butera has the highest batting average of all Dodger catchers- .222.

The problem behind the plate is magnified with Ellis’ injury. Ellis has never been a guy that’ll hit .300 or drop 40 bombs. The Dodgers can work around this knowing the production they will get from the other spots in the lineup. Ellis’ real strength is on defense.

Greinke and Kershaw have constantly said that Ellis calls a game better than anyone else behind the plate. With Ellis behind the plate, Kershaw posts a 2.05 ERA and a .961 WHIP. With other catchers behind the plate, Kershaw’s ERA is 2.93 and his WHIP is 1.171. Still great numbers, but Ellis brings out the best in the pitching staff. To make matters better, last year Ellis threw out 28 of 63 potential base stealers, giving him the best caught stealing percentage in baseball.

With Ellis sidelined, Fedex has failed to deliver this season. He nearly has as many catchers interference calls as hits and has been extremely disappointing all season.

It may be critical to go after a backup catcher, but all the “weaknesses” the Dodgers were supposed to have this season have stepped up and turned into strengths. Dee Gordon has been playing out of his mind at second base and seems like he’s finally comfortable against big league pitching. Along with the adage “speed never slumps”, Gordon has turned into one of the brighter spots of April for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers also came into the season with a question mark at third base. Juan Uribe was getting booed at Chavez Ravine a year ago, but played his way into the hearts of Dodger fans with gold glove caliber defense and clutch hitting. Many, including myself, believed Uribe had an outlier year trying to play his way into a new contract, which he did. However, Uribe is proving that last season was no outlier. He’s currently hitting .330 through 23 games and has held his own defensively, holding down the hot corner.

By default, Federowicz is the weakest player on the Dodgers. Unlike Ellis, Fedex’s defense and intangibles don’t not make up for his lack of offense. The Dodgers’ farm system may have the answer. In the offseason, they signed Miguel Olivo, who has always been a serviceable catcher. With Ellis on the bench, Olivo might be a better option behind the plate than Fedex.

The trade market isn’t very friendly for teams in need of a backstop. The Dodgers could probably trade one of their 47 starting-caliber outfielders for a solid catcher, but they shouldn’t. They need to wait it out until Ellis comes off the DL. His defense is invaluable to this team, as is his camaraderie with the Dodger pitching staff. While he is only a .254 career hitter, his patience at the plate can change the game. He sees a lot of pitches and can wear down an opposing pitcher at the plate. His intangibles and defense makes his low batting average acceptable, especially with the caliber of players around him in the lineup.

The Dodgers have talent across the board, making choosing a weakness an arduous task. It may be unfair to choose a backup catcher that’s only in the lineup because of an injury, but Tim Federowicz has been the weakness of the Dodgers thus far in 2014.