Monday, May 30, 2011

How About Some Love for the Leadoff Man

Sports Illustrated

As the Red Sox are finishing up a red-hot month of May, Red Sox Nation is busy talking about the fantastic months, and seasons, being put forth by the likes of Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, etc. I, myself, am guilty as this, with my piece the other day on Carl Crawford. However, after watching yesterday's double-header, I realized there is a man that has been overlooked by Boston's talking heads. I am talking about Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury is coming off of an injury riddled 2010, one that only allowed him to play 18 games. If you remember correctly, the injury was handled horribly by all parties involved, and it led people to start calling Ellsbury soft and a pretty boy. Of course, if you actually ever watched the games, pretty boy is a terrible description, as Ellsbury is constantly diving in the outfield, and his base-stealing causes him to "get dirty" very often. And, thus far in 2011, Ellsbury is making a point to shake the soft-label. This season, only two Red Sox players have played in every game. One is Adrian Gonzalez, who plays first base, not exactly a demanding position. The other one is Ellsbury, the team's center fielder, who has to cover a lot of ground out there. Like I said, it seems that he is playing in every game to make a point to all of his critics.

It is not just that he is playing in the games, though. He is playing at a high level for the the team out of the leadoff spot. On Twitter last night, Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) came up with a great stat following Ellsbury's lead off base hit. In 2011, the center fielder is hitting .351 (13 for 37) in the first inning. Since he has been the leadoff hitter for the majority of the season, this means the Red Sox are starting the game with a base runner a good portion of the time. As much as Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz will get the credit for knocking in the early runs, don't be so fast to overlook the man who is setting the table in the leadoff spot.

Ellsbury has been outplaying his career numbers after the first two months of the season. In 2011, he is sporting a triple-slash line of .298/.368/.462, which you can compare to his career line of .292/.347/.412. That on base percentage is the big one, of course, because the leadoff man's job is to get on base. One other thing to notice is, my favorite, his BABIP. This year, he is hitting .346 on batted balls. That may seem really high, and it is compared to the average major leaguer. However, for a speed guy like Ellsbury, you tend to see higher BABIP. In fact, his career rate of .323 suggests that this is just a tad high, but shouldn't come down too much.

Finally, Ellsbury has made his career in Boston somewhat on his ability to steal bases. In 2009, this ability reached its peak, when he stole 70 bases for the year, and led the league. He was off to a rather slow (no pun intended) start this year, stealing only five bags in the month of April. However, in May he has swiped 14 bags, giving him 19 steals still early in the year. In fact, he is on pace for 58 steals this year, even after his bad April. If he keeps up his pace he has been stealing at in May, reaching that 70 mark is not out of the realm of possibility.

Basically, the point of this blog was to give credit where credit is due. The run producers will get a ton of credit throughout the season because this offense should continue to put up big numbers. However, don't be so quick to forget the guy who is setting up all of the runs. And continue to notice that the so-called "soft" Ellsbury is playing on a nightly basis. 

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