In a 162-game season, all major league baseball teams are going to have their winning streaks and losing streaks come and go. And most of your favorite players will have plenty of hitting streaks and (frustrating) hitless streaks. That’s a given.
Teams can have great hitting coaches help the pros get out of a given funk, but that doesn’t guarantee any success either (nor does having great pitching coaches mean a team’s staff will be great). So you have to look at other things, like where a particular batter is hitting in the order. In the case of the Red Sox’s center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, everyone in the baseball world knows he is their leadoff hitter (when healthy). But in over 300 at bats last season (which was cut short due to injury) and so far this season, his production at that spot has been rather awful, with a .313 OBP in 2012 and so far this year, .312. More than just not hitting, he’s not drawing many walks or driving the ball hard like he did in his MVP-type season of 2011 when he bashed 32 home runs and drove in 105 runs.
He hasn’t lost his speed on the bases and is among the league leaders in stolen bases (when he does get on base), but watching him go 1-for-4, 1-for-5 or 0-for-5 seemingly every other night lately is getting bothersome. His batting average (now .247) has dipped 43 points and OBP nearly 30 points since May 4 when they were, respectively, .290 and .340. (That’s what happens when a leadoff hitter, with so many ABs each game, doesn’t draw enough walks.) Even though his one hit and RBI was key to Boston’s win over Minnesota last night, that kind of production won’t cut it most nights and will hurt the team in the long run if it doesn’t improve.
So what do you do about it? Here’s the solution manager John Farrell needs to think about doing: Put shortstop Stephen Drew in the leadoff spot for a few games, and drop Ellsbury to the ninth slot. Drew has more plate appearances there in his career than anywhere else, and it’s where he’s been most productive, with 28 homers, a .282 average and a decent .342 OBP. Plus, he is smoking the ball this month and is one of the Red Sox’s hottest hitters – he hit a grand slam in Toronto earlier this week as part of a much-needed blowout win for the team.
As for Ellsbury, the only other spot in the batting order he has more appearances in than the leadoff position is in fact, the ninth slot, and he’s batting .322, with a .390 OBP in 100 PAs. Both of those guys are veterans, and I’m sure they won’t mind changing spots for a series or two, just to shake things up a bit and see what happens.
But if the Sox center fielder doesn’t respond well and continues to struggle, then you have to wonder who the real Jacoby Ellsbury is. Are we to believe he is the all-around hitter he was in 2011? Or just an average hitter with great speed in the outfield and on the bases. We’ve got (at least) another four full months to find out.
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