ELLSBURY IS A YANKEE
It's too late to go back in time and change the fact that Jocoby Ellsbury now patrols center field for the New York Yankees. That said, let's take a quick look at "what if" he had re-signed and was still playing center and leading off for the Red Sox. Would it have made a difference to the Sox through May 13, 2014?
As I write this column, both the Yankees and Red Sox have played 38 games and are 19-19, trailing the Orioles by 1 1/2 games.
Overall the Red Sox have not been very good defensively...except in centerfield. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been equal to or better than Ellsbury in the field.
He has been spectacular, making difficult catches look easy. JBJ glides to balls and anticipates where he will make the catch while Ellsbury has to run full force and make the same play look difficult, often diving for balls Bradley gobbles up easily.
They both make the catch, so that's all that really counts...isn't it? No, not at all. The ability to be in a good throwing position when catching a fly ball often keeps runners honest...in many cases keeping them from tagging up and moving to the next bag. Add in the fact that JBJ has a much stronger arm (that's a no-brainer) and you have to give the edge to him.
Grady Sizemore has not spent as much time in center, but has also made some nice plays there. He is not in either Ellsbury of Bradley's class defensively, but does have decent speed, a better arm than Jacoby (again, who doesn't) and is a solid fielder when in the starting line-up. Unlike Ellsbury, who played almost exclusively in center, Sizemore also gives more options to John Farrell, with his ability to play all 3 outfield positions well.
I'd give the edge, defensively, to Bradley over Ellsbury and Jacoby over Sizemore. Ultimately it's a wash.
Here's where things get interesting. Since neither Sizemore or JBJ lead off, to compare what they have accomplished at bat is like comparing bowling balls to baseballs (OK, I was going to say apples to oranges, but that was too cliche). Head-to- head Ellsbury has a significant lead, right?
Not as much as you might think. Let's look at the 4 key offensive areas
Average HR Runs RBI
Ellsbury: .295 1 20 14
Bradley Jr. .218 0 17 13
Sizemore .227 2 9 11
Batting average is no contest, but, in 2 of the 4 key areas, Bradley and Sizemore have done better than Ellsbury. That is misleading for many reasons, but still is relevant in the discussion of how much they miss him. Before you say it, I will...often JBJ and Sizemore are in the line-up at the same time, an obvious advantage in runs scored and RBI totals. I concede that without any arguement.
LET'S LOOK AT LEADING OFF
Here's the true test of how much he has been missed. Have the Sox been weak at the top of the order due to his loss? Or, have they still performed well despite his absence? To be fair I'm going to measure this a few ways. Since the Sox seem to have settled in with Dustin Pedroia batting lead off, we'll start there.
Head To Head: Batting Lead Off & Elswere In The Line-up
Average HR Runs RBI
Ellsbury: .295 1 20 14
Pedroia: .285 2 25 12
Once again, it's about a wash. Pedroia has 9 (yes, believe it or not, that's all) fewer at bats leading off, so the opportunity to drive in runs is in his favor...yet Ellsbury leads in that category. On the other side of the coin, by leading off, Ellsbury has more opportunities to score, yet Pedroia has the edge there.
Ellsbury has led off in 21 of the Yankees first 37 games, so let's make it apples to apples. Lead off-to lead-off:
AB Average HR Runs RBI
Ellsbury (21 Games) 86 .302 1 15 10
Pedroia (18 Games) 78 .282 2 15 13
*Jonny Gomes (4 games) 14 .286 1 2 2
*Gomes is 2nd on the Sox in lead-off appearance. How's that for a shocker!
I started writing this article thinking that a big part of the Red Sox early season struggles offensively were directly related to the loss of Ellsbury. After looking at it objectively (yes, I did) I now have to change my opinion. The loss of Jacoby has not had much, if any, effect on why the Sox are 19-18 and fighting to put together a long winning streak.
What is impossible to calculate is what impact his speed has on opposing pitchers. The other uncalculable item is, with him hitting lead-off, Victorino 2nd, Pedroia 3rd, Ortiz 4th & Napoli 5th would the line-up be scoring more runs and hitting into fewer DPs.
Red Sox Nation will have to check his loss off the "excuse" list and look elsewhere...like below average fielding...inconsistancy of a pitching staff we thought could be outstanding...poor base running...and, finally, a World Series hangover.
A LONG WAY TO GO
So far, no one in the AL East has put it all together. Tampa Bay has been the surprise, at the bottom of the division at 16-23 and 5 1/2 games out. No one is out-of-it...and it could remain that way throughout the season.
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