Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jacoby stays on message

Jacoby Ellsbury drew just 10 walks in his first 224 plate appearances (4.4 percent), all at the top of the Red Sox order. Since he was bumped down to eighth in the batting order, he's walked nine times in 60 plate appearances (15 percent). His on-base percentage has jumped from .332 to .355.

He's got it now, clearly. He's totally overhauled his hitting approach. He's drinking the Kevin Youkilis Kool-Aid. He's an on-base machine. Right?

"I haven't changed a thing," Ellsbury said. "I haven't changed a thing."

Say what?

"I've had the same approach," he went on. "Basically, I'm just taking what they're giving me. I've always been pretty patient as a hitter, but if they're throwing you strikes, you can't take strikes. They're going to hang a strikeout-looking on you. But they've been off the plate a little more, and I'm just taking what they're giving me."

That's got to be a little disheartening to hear if you're Theo Epstein or Terry Francona -- for two reasons:

1. Ellsbury hasn't made an effort to change his approach.
2. Ellsbury believes he's "always been pretty patient as a hitter."

So far this season, Ellsbury is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than any Red Sox hitter except Nick Green. A year ago, he swung at more pitches out of the strike zone than any Red Sox hitter except Dustin Pedroia.

Strike-zone discipline sometimes takes time to learn -- just Atlanta's Chipper Jones, who is fifth among active players in on-base percentage.

"There are certain times when teams are absolutely not going to let me beat them," Jones said in an interview on Friday. "I have to be quick to realize when those situations arise and when I just have to take my walk and let the guy behind me do the damage. But you’re talking about a guy who, this is my 16th year in the big leagues. It’s hard enough for me to do it, much less a guy who’s been in the league two or three years. It’s almost impossible for them to stay patient."

Ellsbury, in one sense, is correct. He has been seeing more pitches out of the strike zone. The pitchers against whom he's been walking -- Philadelphia's Antonio Bastardo and Florida's Andrew Miller, for example -- had control issues against the Red Sox in general and not just against Ellsbury.

"Even as a young kid, I've had a pretty good eye," he said. "But when you're a leadoff hitter or you're a guy who can run, they're not going to want to walk you. If they walk you, you have a chance of stealing a base. The game speeds up, and it puts a lot of pressure on the defense if you can steal. Teams definitely don't want to give guys that can steal bases a base on balls."

There's an expression for that: Self-fulfilling prophecy. If Ellsbury goes up the plate convinced he's going to see nothing but strikes, he's going to do nothing but swing. If he does nothing but swing, he's not going to get on base. Check out the numbers:

Swing percentage:
J.D. Drew: 37.7 percent
Kevin Youkilis: 37.7
Jason Bay: 38.9
Dustin Pedroia: 39.1
Mike Lowell: 42.3
Jacoby Ellsbury: 42.4
Jason Varitek: 42.5
David Ortiz: 46.4
Nick Green: 56.3

On-base percentage:
Kevin Youkilis: .446
Jason Bay: .400
J.D. Drew: .386
Dustin Pedroia: .379
Jacoby Ellsbury: .355
Nick Green: .335
Mike Lowell: .324
Jason Varitek: .320
David Ortiz: .308

The same four make up the top of both lists. That's not coincidence.


Fun fact from Saturday's 3-0 win over the Braves: The last time Nick Green faced Derek Lowe, it was the Fourth of July in 2004. Lowe was with the Red Sox. Green was with the Braves -- and so, too, were J.D. Drew and John Smoltz.

Green and Drew delivered the game's biggest hits -- Green singled home the tying run and Drew followed with a two-run double. The Braves knocked Lowe out in the fifth inning of what would be his worst start of the season. Smoltz then pitched a scoreless ninth inning to close it out.

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