Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury

The Red Sox finished April as the AL’s 3rd most potent offense, scoring 136 runs in their 29 games. The Angels and the Tigers were tied for first with 138 runs apiece. Yet to anyone watching the games recently, the Sox look like a terrible offense, struggling to score runs against even mediocre starters. What is going on here? Is it possible for a whole team to slump like this? I think that it’s worth dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of each hitter, to try and get an idea of what’s going right and what could improve. With the wealth of baseball information available to the average Joe these days, we can do quite a bit better than just home and away splits. Using some great reference tools at FanGraphs and Josh Kalk’s blog, we can analyze the Boston offense, and understand a little better what makes it tick.

Leadoff: Jacoby Ellsbury
[B-R] [Fangraphs] [Josh Kalk] [ESPN] [Hittracker]

How he’s pitched to
Ellsbury has taken about half of the plate appearances in the leadoff role at 73, and hit .295/.389/.443 in that role. The other three players used in that role, Pedroia, Crisp and Lugo, have combined for a .221 OBP. Righthanders have fed him a steady diet of fastballs (64%) and changeups away (14%), along with some sliders low and in the dirt (11%). Lefties have shown him far more breaking stuff (22% curves away, 22% sliders in).

Hitting approach
Ellsbury has had very good plate discipline for a young player, and doesn’t swing at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone (just 18% this year, a big improvement on last year’s 27%). Fitting for a leadoff man, he’s taking a lot of walks (14.8%), has struck out just 9.3% of the time and is seeing a solid 3.72 pitches per PA. He’s had a good 90.8% contact rate and hit a ton of line drives at 26.5%. His BABIP is a little low at .277, so he should be hitting above .300, though I expect a lot of those liners to become ground balls as the season progresses.

Jacoby has had success chopping fastballs high and tight to the opposite field, but he has yet to get a single hit off a curveball. He fouls off a lot of high heat, and is hitting .250 on fastballs overall. Ellsbury doesn’t have a lot of power, but his .160 ISO is propped up by 3 HR, despite only 5 XBH. His three home runs have been pulled out to right with an average true distance of 393 ft, and he has punished the changeup when it’s left out over the plate.

Ellsbury has really utilized his very good speed, and already has 8 stolen bases and 3 infield hits; 1 of his 2 bunts has resulted in a hit as well. Perhaps most impressive is that he has yet to be caught stealing in a Major League uniform. When on base, he definitely gets into the minds of pitchers and catchers alike, having caused several no throws and throwing errors. He’s taken several extra bases and probably caused a hanging pitch or two for Pedroia. It’s interesting to note that he’s not the fastest guy in the Majors; he’s not even the fastest guy on this team (that distinction belongs to Clay Buchholz, believe it or not).

Ellsbury has succeeded against the fastball and changeup, but struggles a bit with breaking balls, especially curves so far. This is a small sample size, but it looks like he has pretty much a prototypical leadoff man. He gets on base, has great speed to disrupt the defense, and knows how to fight off tough pitches. He’s certainly excelling in that role already. Is it a coincidence that when he went down with a sore groin, the Sox offense sputtered and died? I’d like to see him work more on hitting low breaking balls; I think his mistake pitch-hitting will improve with experience. Overall, an exciting young player who takes what the defense gives him, and should continue to produce from the leadoff spot.


One Response to Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury

  1. Pingback: Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Dustin Pedroia « Red Sox Talk

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