Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ellsbury Brings the Art of Leadoff Hitting Back to Boston

From 2003 through 2005, the Red Sox lead the majors in runs scored (they scored the second most in 2002). Then in 2006, the Red Sox fell to 9th in that same category, and last year finished fourth in the league. Many aspects of the Red Sox offense have changed in between 2005 and now.

There have been smaller contributing factors such as the decline of Varitek's offense and there have been some larger factors, such as Manny Ramirez's poor health the past two years. But in my opinion, the largest difference between the Red Sox offense of 2005 and the Red Sox offense the past two years has been their lack of a true leadoff hitter.

The past two years, the Red Sox have had a tough choice to make. They could go with someone like Coco Crisp, who has plenty of speed, but only gets on base at a rate of around .325. Or they could go with someone like Youkilis, who gets on base at a rate of around .385 but has virtually no speed. Finally, in 2007, the Red Sox will likely have a player with both.

Jacoby Ellsbury will give the Red Sox the offensive catalyst that they've lacked since Johnny Damon. Ellsbury can definitely get on base. He did so at a rate of .394 during the regular season last year with the Red Sox. Over his minor league career he got on base at a rate of .389.

And speed? Does he ever have speed. In just his third major league game against the Texas Rangers, Ellsbury stole second and then later scored from second on a passed ball. He went a perfect 11-0 on the base paths last year with the Red Sox. Ellsbury's Jose Reyes-like speed is something he's demonstrated throughout his baseball career.

In high school, Ellsbury didn't have to slide once while stealing a base. In college, Ellsbury was 60-16 on the base paths. Over his minor league career, he was 105-27 in stolen base attempts, with 12 of those caught stealings coming at the Single-A level. Ellsbury was named the Red Sox minor league base runner of the year in 2006. That's not the only award Ellsbury won in 2006.

That same year, Ellsbury was also named the Red Sox defensive player of the year. And while great defensive play won't help the Red Sox offense, it will help the Red Sox win games. Ellsbury's a complete player. His power isn't anything special, but it's not bad for his age. And with his speed and base running abilities, he really doesn't need any power to score runs. His arm in center will significantly better than what the Red Sox have had at that position in almost a decade.

Ellsbury is a catalyst not only because of his incredible skills, but also because of when he uses those skills best. He has a flair for the dramatic, and propensity for the big hit. Ellsbury had 10 home runs over his minor league career. But in only 33 games with the Red Sox, he hit three, two of them providing the difference in the game. Ellsbury also managed to hit .455/.500/.545 with runners in scoring position, and .471/.550/.647 with runners in scoring position and two out.

And in October, when it mattered most? Ellsbury lead the Red Sox in hits, doubles, stolen bases, average, and on base percentage. He was second to only Mike Lowell in both runs scored and slugging percentage. Ellsbury was so good, that the Red Sox didn't lose a single playoff game in which he had an at bat.

What else could you ask for?

1 comment:

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