Should Jacoby Ellsbury still lead off?


Ellsbury makes contact

Ellsbury makes contact

Last year, we showed that when Jacoby Ellsbury was hitting well, this lineup really produced. So far, the offense has been anemic, and a lot of that has been fueled by a .200/.259/.200 performance by Boston’s leadoff hitter of the future. Is it too early to pull the plug on the #1 hitter?Those who know me already know that my answer is – it’s too early. While Ellsbury is struggling greatly, he has been the victim of a .250 BABIP, which has to contain a large element of bad luck (hitting it right to fielders), as Ellsbury has a career BABIP of .324. He has been doing all the things a speedy leadoff guy is supposed to do – hit line drives (21.1%) and keep the ball on the ground (47.4%). He’s even bunted his way on once too. It’s not that he can’t hit, as he currently has a 97.6% contact rate. It’s not that he’s overaggressive, because his 39.8% swing percentage is well below his norm and 27.8% swing rate on balls out of the zone is not bad. With 4.00 pitches per plate appearance, he’s waiting for his pitch now more than ever. So what’s the issue?

I think Ellsbury is a smart guy who knows what the Red Sox front office likes to see. He knows they want him to be selective and walk more in order to cement his job, and he’s trying really hard to be what they want him to be. But he’s trying too hard. Jacoby, if you’re out there, just know that the Sox will play you if you produce – try to relax and play your game. Dare pitchers to walk you so you can run circles around the bases, just trust your instincts and swing more!

Ellsbury’s speed, line drive rate and peripherals have him projected for a .300 average this season. If he can get that OBP up above .350, he’ll be an excellent leadoff hitter. If all else fails, J.D. Drew is actually a pretty good alternative. No steals to speak of, but he’s a good baserunner.

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