Ellsbury the Power Hitter

Jacoby Ellsbury – photo by: Keith Allison, Source: Flickr, found with Wylio.com” alt=”Jacoby Ellsbury” />photo © 2008 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)
Back in March, when Jacoby Ellsbury was tearing through spring training, Chip posed the question “Jacoby Ellsbury…Power Hitter?”

Here we are, almost to the end of the season’s first month, and what a weird month it’s been. Losing streaks, poor pitching and surprisingly could starts from some steady bats are all among the storylines. Then there is Ellsbury’s storyline. He leads the Sox in home runs.

During spring training, Ellsbury hit three homers in 62 at-bats, he now has four homers in only 50 regular season at-bats, which averages out to be one home run every 12.5 at-bats. That AB/HR rate would translate to 48 home runs over 600 at-bats.

48 home runs. That’s not going to happen, but is this power surge for real?

In Chip’s article, he came to the conclusion…

“In order for his power numbers to see a meaningful long-term increase, Ellsbury would need to either (1) change the plane of his swing to ensure he hits more fly balls, and/or (2) take advantage of the Green Monster in left by mastering the art of hitting the ball in the air to the opposite field.”

Based on what Ellsbuy has done early this season, one of the two is sort-of true. While I don’t think Ellsbury has changed his swing to generate more lift, he is certainly hitting the ball in the air more frequently than his career numbers suggested he would. His current fly ball rate is about 45 percent, which is much higher than his career rate of about 31 percent. However, it has only been 50 at-bats worth of data, so we could certainly see a drastic change in all of his LD/GB/FB rates quite soon. This might actually be a good thing, as Ellsbury’s line drive rate is sitting at a low 13.2 percent and his .200 AVG reflects as much.

Of his fly balls put into play, 23.5 percent have left the yard. That’s a HR/FB rate usually reserved for the best power hitters in the game (Joey Votto‘s was 25 percent last season) and, again, something that should change (regress) as the sample size grows.

Ellsbury is by no means a pull hitter, but three of his four home runs have been hit to his pull side — well, that’s how they have been classified at least, as the have all been hit the the right of dead center. What’s interesting is that when Ellsbury has pulled the ball this season he has hit the ball on the ground almost 67 percent of the time while hitting the ball in the air only about 27 percent of the time. That means 75 percent of his balls in play to his pull side have been home runs.

His career fly ball rate to the right side is about 18 percent and his career HR/FB to the right side is about 28 percent.

Based on the numbers, Ellsbury should see a drastic drop in the rate in which he is hitting the ball out of the yard. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he is currently swinging the bat in a fashion that helps his chances of hitting a home run. While this has allowed him to take a few mistake pitches and turn them in to round-trippers, it has also led to too many strikeouts and fly-outs.

In the end, Ellsbury will likely look like the player he has been in the past, hitting for AVG, limiting his strikeouts, putting the ball on the ground much more frequently and stealing a ton of bases.

It has been fun to watch Ellsbury show off his power skills, but I think it will be even more fun to see him spray line drives all over the field, get on base and steal bases while mixing in the occasional homer.

After all, it would be a shame to see him set a career high in home runs if comes along with a .250 AVG and .300 OBP.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury

Charlie first started writing about baseball back in 2008 when he opened Fantasy Baseball 365. Since graduating college with a degree in English, he has spent time coaching baseball as well as working in several minor league front offices. He also writes for The Outside Corner and contributes to Project Prospect and ESPN's Sweet Spot. Writer from August 3, 2010 - May 6, 2012

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