Of all the disappointments during the 2012 season that now leave the Red Sox fighting to avoid the bottom rung of the AL East standings for the first time in two decades, few sting more than Jacoby Ellsbury's total lack of punch at the plate.
No one expected Ellsbury to replicate his production from last year, when he hit 32 home runs and slugged .552. But Ellsbury, who missed three months this season due to a dislocated right shoulder suffered while running the bases, has been a banjo hitter even by the modest power standards he set earlier in his career. He's slugging just .354 in 253 plate appearances, compared to .405 from 2007-2010.
Ellsbury did nearly all of his damage last season on middle-in pitches. He was especially fond of low-and-in offerings:
Ellsbury's slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011
Inside pitches get pulled far more than middle or away pitches, and Ellsbury was an elite pull hitter in 2011. Check out his hit chart on pulled pitches:
Ellsbury's hit chart on pulled pitches in 2011
Twenty-six of Ellsbury's homers came on pitches hit to the right side. And with a .928 slugging percentage to the pull side, he trailed just Curtis Granderson, Matt Joyce, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce and Josh Hamilton among lefty batters.
This year, though? Ellsbury's heat map on middle-in pitches looks like Boston in January:
Ellsbury's slugging percentage by pitch location in 2012
Brr. Ellsbury's barrage of extra-base hits to the pull side has been replaced by ground balls (62% of pulled pitches put in play, 50% last year) and weakly hit flies:
Ellsbury's hit chart on pulled pitches in 2012
Ellsbury is slugging .349 on pulled pitches this season, or less than half of the MLB average for lefty hitters (.708). Part of the problem could be that he's trying to pull pitches that he should take to the middle or opposite field. Forty-six percent of the pitches that Ellsbury has pulled have been thrown on the outside corner, versus 29% last season. A lineup that has lost David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks to injury and parted with Adrian Gonzalez to purge Beckett Bucks and Crawford Cash off the payroll needs Ellsbury to find middle ground between his monstrous 2011 and meek 2012.