The 2010 season for Jacoby Ellsbury is one he would like to forget. After colliding with Adrian Beltre in short-left field in April, Ellsbury’s season was emphatically derailed. The result was cracked ribs that never seemed to want to heal and a total of just 18 games played for the lefty speedster. As if the actual rib injury wasn’t enough, there was controversy surrounding Ellsbury all season, much of his own doing. The 1st issue was self-imposed, when Ellsbury accused the Red Sox doctors of mis-diagnosing his cracked ribs and the 2nd involved the choice for him to rehab in Arizona at the Performance Institute, spending months away from his team. Now that all of that is behind him, Ellsbury is proving why he is one of the most valuable members of this Red Sox offense.
So far this Spring, Ellsbury has looked sensational, hitting .452 in 10 games. He has hit 3 doubles and 2 home runs in 29 at-bats with 5 RBIs (1 of his home runs was a monster shot against Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday). He has 2 BBs, 2 Ks, and 1 steal, and appears to be 100% healthy, which is perhaps the best news of all. As the likely leadoff hitter for the Red Sox in 2011, Ellsbury needs to be a table-setter for the other great bats that follow him in the lineup (i.e. Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and Kevin Youkilis). If he can maintain a high on-base percentage and a .300 batting average, the Red Sox offense could be one of the best Boston has seen in decades. A common misconception about an offense is that a bunch of power bats make a great lineup, but in actuality, it is a balanced lineup that has the most success. Speed, power, and average are all critical to putting/keeping the pressure on an opponent.
Ellsbury’s biggest weapon is his speed and ability to throw a pitcher off kilter when on base. This is not a stat category, nor does it necessarily get the attention it deserves, but it is a critical part of applying pressure on the opponent. If a pitcher needs to throw over to 1st on numerous occasions to try and keep Ellsbury in check, or change his delivery in order to get to home plate quicker, it gives the hitter a big advantage, because the pitcher’s attention is split. The pitcher and catcher are both a little on the edge, getting ready for a steal attempt or even a hit and run, which leads to mistakes. Over the course of the season, that pressure can result in errors and missed locations, which lead to runs and big innings. The speed-factor should not be overlooked and with Carl Crawford also in the Sox lineup, the Red Sox can apply pressure at multiple points in the game.
This Spring has proven to be the perfect stage for Ellsbury to re-insert himself as a fan favorite in Boston. Last season put a sour taste in my mouth, especially with all the controversy surrounding the centerfielder, but in a media-centered market like Boston, success on the field can over-ride any bad feelings pretty quickly. The ‘what have you done for me lately’ culture may benefit Ellsbury, because if he can continue to play well into the regular season, 2010 will be a just distant memory.