How Dodgers' having two starting catchers can be good

Dodgers, with two starting catchers -- A.J. Ellis and Yasmani Grandal -- are trying to make it work

So what to do with this two-headed catcher thing? Pull straws, flip a coin, check with astrological charts?

The Dodgers now have two starting catchers. A.J. Ellis has been their primary catcher for the past three seasons. And now they have Yasmani Grandal, the main man last year with the San Diego Padres.

Both are going to play, with Grandal presumably getting the bulk of the work. The Dodgers didn’t send Matt Kemp to the Padres just to make room for Joc Pederson in the outfield and clear salary.

Yet exactly how they split time remains uncertain. Manager Don Mattingly really hasn’t talked much about it since saying during the team’s fan fest in January that it would work itself out. Doesn’t seem to be worried about it.

So how will they divvy up playing time?

Both are right-handed, though Grandal is a switch-hitter. Both struggled last season returning from knee surgeries; Grandal’s was from the 2013 season but was more serious reconstructive surgery. Both want to play as much as possible but are saying the right things.

Grandal is almost eight years younger and has the greater power. He’s one of the places the Dodgers are hoping to make up for the power loss of Hanley Ramirez and Kemp.

Yet even if he becomes the unofficial starting catcher, he doesn’t figure to play every day or close to it. If teams can control it and have a reasonable backup catcher, they generally prefer to rest their catcher more than any other position.

If Grandal starts between 100 and 110 games, then Ellis is still playing two or three times a week. Ellis may get most of Clayton Kershaw’s starts, but certainly doesn’t figure to be his personal catcher. According to research by Eric Stephen at True Blue LA, Ellis caught 81 of Kershaw's 93 starts over the last three seasons. Kershaw's earned-run average was 1.96 in games caught by Ellis, and 2.69 in the other 12 starts.

The Dodgers can’t disregard that success, but flexibility is one of the new buzzwords on this team and they’re not interested in getting locked into a set formula for playing time.

It could depend on who’s going well. Could be a semi-platoon situation; for their careers Grandal has been a better hitter against right-handers (.252/.356/.424), while Ellis has been better against left-handers (.227/.361/.359). Career stats against that night’s opposing starter will figure in. Looming off-days could factor.

If the Dodgers are somewhat making it up as they go along, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both are going to play, and in theory, stay fresh for the long haul. And both want to rebound from last season. Grandal had a .225/.327/.401 slash line and Ellis, who had his knee surgery in April, was at a .191/.323/.254 mark.

Sometimes, maybe, two heads are better than one.

 

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