Should Jacoby Ellsbury be leading off?

MLB: APR 12 Red Sox at Angels
Entering last night's game against the Indians, Jacoby is hitting .291/.323/.350 on the season. Now, the season is early but his numbers are eerily similar to last year's, when he hit .280/.323/.350.

He's been torrid on the basepaths and has 15 swiped bags on the season, but the .323 OBP is not worthy of being a leadoff man.

Should he be moved out?
MLB: APR 12 Red Sox at Angels

Entering last night’s game against the Indians, Jacoby is hitting .291/.323/.350 on the season. Now, the season is early but his numbers are eerily similar to last year’s, when he hit .280/.323/.350.
He’s been torrid on the basepaths and has 15 swiped bags on the season, but the .323 OBP is not worthy of occupying the leadoff spot.
Should he be moved out?
Jacoby hasn’t shown an ability to hit the high, inside fastball that pitchers have been busting him with all this year and most of last year. Pitchers took note of his struggles with that pitch and are throwing him fastballs with increased regularity. He’s seeing fastballs 72.3 percent of the time on the year as opposed to 65.3 percent last year.
Quite simply, the pitchers are daring Ellsbury to beat him, and Ellsbury is being forced to adapt.
Is he?
His .280 batting average last year and .291 so far this year are more than fine for a leadoff man — or for any position in the batting order for that matter. In that sense, yes, he has adapted.
What’s not fine is Jacoby’s lack of patience. He’s going up there looking to swing, not work pitches and alter his approach to get on base more. He’s still swinging at balls outside the strike zone at the same clip he’s done his entire career. He hasn’t adjusted his discipline in any way.
Jacoby has decent pop as evidenced by his nine home runs last year. For someone his speed, you would naturally expect his seven triples but more concerning to me was his 22 doubles.
He’s lost power so far this year with a .350 SLG (last year’s was .394) but that doesn’t concern me: as the weather heats up, he’ll start knocking more balls out of the park. It won’t be a significant change, however, to dramatically alter his game.
Unless he suddenly changes his game — with all evidence pointing to him not doing so — he’s a liability at the top of the order. Now, batting eighth or ninth? He’s a great value. A great defender who can hit for a reasonably high batting average and swipe bases makes for a fantastic value at the bottom of the order.
At the top? He has yet to show the plate discipline over his entire career to justify leading off. It makes me wonder why the Red Sox are sticking him up there.
Is it because there’s a lack of potential replacements?
I say no. You could just as easily slide Dustin Pedroia up to the leadoff spot then either put J.D. Drew second and drop David Ortiz to fourth or put Jason Bay in the two spot.
Even though Drew doesn’t care for hitting leadoff (both statistically and anecdotally) he could take over that mantle as well.
It makes you wonder if the Red Sox value OBP a little less than they generally do when you mix speed into the equation, as Jacoby has.
I don’t have any answers, but logic dictates that the numbers Jacoby has been putting up isn’t worthy of the leadoff spot.
Is his speed that valuable at the top of the order that the Sox are willing to deal with the loss of OBP? Is it a matter of Jacoby simply fitting best at the top with the other batters where they are?
What do you think?

Categories: Jacoby Ellsbury

Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

9 Responses to “Should Jacoby Ellsbury be leading off?” Subscribe

  1. jvwalt May 8, 2009 at 3:25 AM #

    I agree with the premise: if Ellsbury can't get his OBP over .350, he's not the best leadoff man on the team. I'd do what they did last year when Ellsbury wasn't around: Pedroia leading off and Youk #2. After that, Ortiz, Bay, Drew, Lowell, et al. Ellsbury would be #9 as a "second leadoff hitter."
    That's a relatively modest reshuffle. And I'm leery of massive lineup changes in midseason. I think it's important for players to have some level of comfort with their place on the team. There's no way to quantify the productive value of comfort, but it's got to have an effect. I know in my own workplace, I'm more productive if I have trust and confidence in my boss — and I'm less productive if I feel insecure in my role. I'm not saying a manager has to kowtow to his players; but I am saying that handling a ballclub is far different than running a fantasy team.
    Also, although we love to argue lineups, all the sabermetric studies have shown that lineup selection has a very limited impact on a team's offensive production. So really, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether Ellsbury hits first or ninth.

  2. bottomlinesox May 8, 2009 at 4:36 AM #

    I'll say this much – With Lugo having a great game last night and Ellsbury out, Eck and Don started talking about the speed combo of Ells and Lugo at 1 and 9.
    They summized that having two speedsters ahead of the big bats should equal lots of runs… but as Evan pointed out, you can't score runs if these guys don't get one base.
    I like Drew's patience at the top of the order and with Lowell, Youk and Bay all hot, you don't lose much production in the middle… but Tito recently stated that he doesn't like shifting the lineup alot – especially Pedroia – and I agree.
    If Lugo or Green or Ellsbury reach, Pedey can drive them in… but he also has the OBP to get on base and set teh table for the big guns.
    Bottom Line: I say leave it as it is. Ellsbury may not appear to be adjusting his approach, but it's still early both in the season and in his career.
    ps. A better question might be: Is the struggling Ortiz still the best option in the three-hole?

  3. rumorsontheinternets May 8, 2009 at 4:54 AM #

    Ellsbury is a bad fit for the leadoff spot for exactly the reasons you describe…Pedroia would be a much better option there.
    2nd, why not Bay? He gets on base a lot, has power, and can steal a base. With these two setting the tables, there should be lots of opportunities for:
    3rd – Ortiz. I think this is an overrated spot as the 3 hitter often comes up with two outs (granted, we're talking about minor differences to other lineup spots, even across the entire season).
    4th – Youk. Just crushing everything.
    5th – Drew
    6th – Lowell
    Those two could also be flip flopped.
    7th – Varitek; it is what it is
    8th – Ellsbury. Swing away young man.
    9th – SS, obligated to take lots of pitches and let Ellsbury run.
    Just my two cents.

  4. Richie May 8, 2009 at 6:59 AM #

    Before I scrolled down to your comment, my reaction was almost exactly the same. I know its the Indians pitching… but the game that Lugo had last night leaves me with the feeling that Jacoby should be dropped down in the line up.

  5. Shane May 8, 2009 at 7:51 AM #

    I first thought Jacoby's speed is useless at 8th, who is going to bat him in? But I think Lugo's rbi total two years ago was pretty good. If Jacoby can get on and over to 2nd than Lugo can be confident Jacoby can make it from 2nd to home on a single and not have to press.

  6. Gerry May 8, 2009 at 8:45 AM #

    Julio Lugo had 73 RBI's in 2007. He also had 36 doubles (with 2 triples and 8 HR). Yet his BA dropped from a career .271 to .237, OBP from .333 to .294 and slugging from .395 to .349.
    Even if he has a Tampa type 2009, his OBP has never been great, and his average offensive numbers are not as good as Ells. So, using Evan's argument, Ellsbury is a better leadoff hitter (higher BA, OBP, SB) than Lugo.
    Ellsbury's BA and OBP have been steadily rising since the opening slump that effected most of the team, Papi, Kottaras and Bailey being the last to recover. The Sox have faced some great pitching during this period. His OBP in 2007, before pitchers adjusted to him, was an insane .394. He raised his 2008 BA & OBP late in the season after adjusting to the pitchers.
    IMO, he has been hitting well enough to be given a chance to again adjust to these pitchers' 2009 adjustments. He may realize he has to become a Pete Runnels type singles hitter, with a half dozen HR instead of a dozen, which will make him as valuable as Youk and Bay at the plate.

  7. Evan May 8, 2009 at 9:01 AM #

    We can't anoint Lugo the leadoff hitter based on just one game.
    Ellsbury's career OBP is .342 (colored by his 2007 .394) and Lugo's career is .335.
    At this point in the game, they're both the same hitter, with Ellsbury having more speed.

  8. M.A.G. May 8, 2009 at 1:52 PM #

    I want Ellsbury as the leadoff hitter. He has being improving his hitting, and the speed… THE SPEED.

  9. Craig May 9, 2009 at 2:40 AM #

    I personally think that there's an over-infatuation with speed, but I'd also have to acknowledge that Ellsbury's kind of speed is game-changing.
    On balance, I think I'm on favor of moving him down in the order to 8th or 9th because his OBP is sub-par. There's no other way to put it. His BA is fine, but a .350 OBP is average or maybe slightly above and he's nowhere near it. But, Jesus, if he would only draw some more walks . . .