John Ely had a fantastic season last year in Triple-A and was named the PCL "pitcher of the year" after leading the league in ERA, Wins, and Strikeouts. The Astros acquired Ely from the Dodgers this past December in a trade for left-handed pitcher Rob Rasmussen.
Due to the fact that the Dodgers have approximately 50 starting pitchers on their 40-man roster they decided to use their minor league pitcher of the year to acquire a younger left-handed starter from the Astros. The trade that sent Rob Rasmussen to the Dodgers for John Ely provides the Astros with another major league ready pitcher which is something the Astros were digging for towards the end of last season. He also gives the Astros options since he still has an option remaining if they choose to option him to the minor leagues this season.
John Ely spent almost all of the 2012 season in the minors with the Dodgers Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate. Despite the high run environment of the PCL and Albuquerque in general, Ely posted a very impressive 3.20 ERA in 168.2 innings. His strikeout numbers also improved as he averaged 8.8 K/9 while only allowing a 1.92 BB/9. After two unsuccessful seasons in the PCL, Ely finally figured out how to be successful in the offense-oriented Pacific Coast League. Ely credits his success to being able to throw strikes early and get ahead in the count.
"A lot of it has to do with staying ahead and basically just throwing my best pitches when I have to throw them," says Ely, 26. "You know, making pitches when you need to and realizing, 'OK, this is what I want to do with this pitch right now.' "
"It's the same mix as I've always had. It's just a little bit sharper because I'm staying on it better," says Ely, a third-round pick out of Miami (Ohio) in 2007. "I'm just trying to repeat my delivery more so than years in the past, and trying to have a better mix instead of getting into rhythms and getting into predictable counts where everybody knows what's coming and then giving up a home run or a big hit in a big situation."
That mix that John refers to above includes a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball that usually sit at about 88 MPH, and then a changeup, slider, curveball, and then a cutter. According to TexasLeaguers.com Ely’s fastball reached 90.3 last season, but that was when he pitched out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, and the pitch has sat around 88 MPH for most of his career.
Pitchers who rely on their changeup as their go to pitch usually experience less lefty/righty splits, and that can also be said of Ely as his best pitch is his changeup. Over the last two seasons in the minors he has an FIP of 4.01 against lefties, and 4.00 against righties. Over his career in the majors he has shown reverse splits by posting an 8.69 K/9 and 3.69 FIP against lefties, and a 6.08 K/9 and 5.02 FIP against righties. This tells you how difficult his changeup is against lefties, which is why he has used the pitch 30.4% against lefties and only 19.4% against righties.
ZIPS projections were not all that favorable for John Ely this season. He is projected to throw 148 innings while posting a 5.11 ERA and a 4.60 FIP. He is projected to be hittable, allowing 166 hits in those 148 innings. His strikeout rate is expected to be 6.6 K/9 which is slightly lower than that of his rookie season where he posted a 6.84 K/9. His walk rate is also a pedestrian 3.1 BB/9 compared to the stellar 1.92 he put up in Triple-A last season. In short, it appears that ZIPS viewed last season’s success as an aberration, and not a step forward for Ely.
The biggest question surrounding Ely is can he be a similar pitcher to what he was last season, or will he be the John Ely that broke into the majors in 2010 and posted a 4.38 FIP. The latter would still provide value to the backend of the Astros staff, but the former would provide a big boost to the rotation. The biggest improvements he made statistically last season were an increase in strikeouts (8.8 K/9 in 2012 versus 7.7 career), a decrease in walks (1.9 BB/9 in 2012 versus 2.7 career) and giving up less hits (8.0 H/9 in 2012 versus 9.0 career). How he performs in these three areas against major league hitters this spring and early season could provide a little insight into which Ely the Astros get. The easy answer is that John Ely’s performance will fall somewhere in between the two extremes, but it is possible that he’s made the necessary adjustments and can duplicate last season’s success. We can hope, right.