Friday, May 31, 2013

Ellsbury Running More, Hitting Less

Ellsbury has been wreaking havoc on the basepaths despite struggling offensively
Jacoby Ellsbury ran wild during Boston's 9-2 beatdown of the Philadelphia Phillies last night. The Red Sox lead-off man, who reached base five times via three singles, a walk and a hit by pitch, showcased his elite speed by swiping five bases off Philadelphia pitching and helpless catcher Eric Kratz. In addition to setting a team record, the five thefts boosted Ellsbury's season total to 21 while vaulting him past Nate McLouth and Everth Cabrera for the major league lead.

Last night's performance was classic Ellsbury, who once stole home off Andy Pettitte and now has a chance to lead the league in steals for the third time in his career. Two seasons removed from a fluke year in which he finished second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP voting by slugging 32 home runs and stealing 39 bases, Ellsbury has reverted to the player he was in 2008 and 2009, when he went deep 17 times but stole 120 bases, leading the American League in '08 and both leagues in '09. Ellsbury's 21 steals are impressive, but what's even more impressive is that he's been caught only two times, giving him a 91.3 percent success rate. He's been unstoppable.

Even so, Ellsbury's performance to date has been somewhat disappointing. Yes, Boston's centerfielder has regained his status as one of the sport's premier basestealers, but his power stroke has all but disappeared. With one-third of the 2013 season already in the books, the pending free agent has gone yard once--all the way back on April 7th in Toronto. He's now gone 225 plate appearances without a home run and his slugging percentage has tumbled 180 points over that span. Ellsbury's never going to provide much pop, but he needs to supply more than the two extra base hits he accumulated from April 26th through May 25th.

However, Ellsbury seems to be turning his season around after slumping through most of May. He's shown signs of life at the plate with 11 hits, including five of the extra base variety, in his past five games. It's encouraging to see him drive the ball with authority again; the Red Sox need him set the table by getting on base in front of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli. Boston's offense is much more dangerous when Ellsbury uses his speed as a weapon to distract pitchers and get himself into scoring position, as he did last night.

But it all starts in the batter's box. Even Jacoby Ellsbury can't steal first base.

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