How Jacoby Ellsbury Can Still Go from World Series Goat to Hero
Ellsbury came into the Fall Classic as hot as anyone, hitting .400/.467/.525 with six stolen bases and four extra-base hits in 10 games. The World Series, however, has been a different story for the soon-to-be free agent.
After Game 4 on Sunday, Ellsbury has three hits, all singles, in 16 at-bats (.188) and zero stolen base attempts against the St. Louis Cardinals. He has also made errors in the last two games, and the one in Game 4 led to the first run scored.
Ellsbury led the majors with 52 stolen bases in 56 attempts (93 percent) during the regular season. That speed and ability to disrupt pitchers helped the Red Sox score 853 runs, 57 more than any other team.
Yes, there are obvious reasons for Ellsbury's inability to steal bases. When you are on base four times in a series, the opportunities aren't there for the former All-Star to turn it loose.
It also doesn't help Ellsbury's cause that the best defensive catcher in baseball, Yadier Molina, who has thrown out 45 percent of base stealers in his career, is behind the plate for the Cardinals.
Now that we have illustrated Ellsbury's issues, how does he go about correcting the flaws to play a pivotal role down the stretch in the World Series?
The good news for Ellsbury and the Red Sox, at least offensively, is that some of his woes can be partly attributed to one of those random variances where the balls in play don't fall. He is making contact with just three strikeouts through four games, yet has virtually nothing to show for it.
On the flip side, he has been making weak contact. According to Hit F/X data from Brooks Baseball, he hasn't hit one line drive in four games against the Cardinals.
Which player needs to have the most impact for Boston to win the World Series?
Ellsbury's power has never been the source of his success despite one outlier season in 2011 with 32 home runs. But the inability to hit a line drive now after the second-highest line-drive rate in his career during the regular season (21 percent) is disturbing.
You would assume that things will level off for Ellsbury eventually, but a seven-game series isn't the best sample size to judge. There could be a lot of "what if's" for him if the Red Sox don't walk away with a championship.
He is going against Adam Wainwright again on Monday night in Game 5, and he did not swing and miss once in three at-bats during the first game of the World Series. He did strike out once against the St. Louis ace, but it was on a called strike.
Knowing what Wainwright has to offer and being able to make contact every time he takes the bat off his shoulder gives Ellsbury a huge psychological edge. Understanding the timing and rhythm of a pitcher can help any hitter, no matter how good the player on the mound might be.
I would also suggest that coming up in a big RBI spot could alleviate some of the pressure off Ellsbury, but the bottom of Boston's lineup isn't creating those opportunities. The 7-8-9 spots in the order have hit a collective .047 (2-for-43) in the series.
That leaves Ellsbury on a bit of an island when he's always coming to bat with nobody on base and at least one out, assuming he isn't leading off an inning. Simple logic will tell you it's harder to get rallies started when there is already an out.
Being able to work counts will also put pressure on the opposing pitchers, even if Ellsbury isn't getting on base. He has seen more than four pitches in an at-bat just five times. That inability to work counts also prevents the Red Sox from getting into the St. Louis bullpen earlier, which is an area they excelled at during the regular season.
A player like Stephen Drew can get away without hitting because of his glove. It feels like he hasn't gotten a hit since the playoffs started, yet no one disputes his starting at shortstop because of the defensive wizardry he's displayed throughout the postseason.
Even if we are just talking about a one-game showcase, where Ellsbury is able to get on base, say, twice and steal a base while playing solid defense in center field, the Red Sox would be well-positioned to win that game.
What I want to see from Ellsbury are some of the smaller fundamental things that make him such a great leadoff hitter. Work counts, foul off pitches to run up a starter's pitch count and stop making mental mistakes on defense.
It's almost too simple a narrative, yet the Red Sox aren't doing anything in this series. Ellsbury has to be the proverbial straw that stirs the drink to get Dustin Pedroia and, especially, David Ortiz chances to drive in a run.
It's not much and yet it would make the Red Sox more dangerous. Ortiz is the heart of this Boston team, but Ellsbury is the soul. Everything they do works around his ability as a four-tool player.
Boston needs to have Ellsbury make an impact just once in a game to win this World Series. In a series that hasn't been crisp on either side, stars are going to make the difference. We have seen it with Jon Lester and Mike Napoli in Game 1, Michael Wacha in Game 2, Matt Holliday in Game 3 and Jonny Gomes and David Ortiz in Game 4.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.
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