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Entries in Jacoby Ellsbury (13)


Can Jacoby Ellsbury Keep Slugging?

Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became a radically different offensive player in 2011, finishing second in American League MVP voting by bashing 32 home runs and posting a 146 OPS+. Ellsbury's 2011 homer total eclipsed his major and minor league tally from 2005 to 2010 (30).

ESPN SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield thinks Ellsbury's newfound slugger status is here to stay, setting the over/under on Ellsbury's 2012 homer total at 24.5:

How much luck was involved in his 32 home runs? The ESPN Home Run Tracker breaks down home runs into different categories, including "just enough" (barely cleared the fence) and "lucky home runs" (a home run that would not have cleared the fence on a calm, 70-degree day). Miguel Cabrera led the majors with 16 "just enough" home runs. Ellsbury had just four such home runs. He had three "lucky" home runs. In other words, the power -- at least in 2011 -- was legitimate.

Ellsbury did change his plate approach considerably in 2011, pulling the ball much more often when he put it in play (35%, up from 27% from 2008-10)  and hitting far fewer ground balls on those pulled pitches (44%, down from 52%). As a result, Ellsbury ranked in the top in slugging on pulled pitches among qualified hitters:

Curtis Granderson 1.108
Matt Joyce 1.031
Carlos Gonzalez 1.026
Jose Bautista 1.000
Mark Reynolds .995
Jay Bruce .982
Josh Hamilton .961
Josh Willingham .943
Jacoby Ellsbury .928
Mike Stanton .911


For comparison, Ellsbury slugged .579 when he pulled the ball from 2008-10, way below the .658 average over that time frame.

As you might expect from all those pulled pitches, most of Ellsbury's thunder came when pitchers located on the inside half of the plate. Here's his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011, compared to 2008-10:

Ellsbury's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

 Ellsbury's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2008-10

All but four of Ellsbury's jacks in 2011 came on pitches thrown down the middle or inside.

Pulling the ball more and cutting down on grounders are both positive signs in terms of Ellsbury's power-hitting prospects for 2012 and beyond. But a skeptic might point out that overall, Ellsbury's fly balls hit didn't travel much farther than in years past. Ellsbury hit fly balls an average distance of 254 feet in 2011, compared to 252 feet from 2008-10. The other nine hitters on that list of top pull hitters hit their fly balls an average of 275 feet, ranging from Josh Willingham's 258 to Mike Stanton's 296.

So, can Ellsbury keep slugging? I would answer with a qualified "yes." Ellsbury's plate changes portend to more power, making him a good bet for 15-20 homers if he keeps ripping the ball in the air to right field. His days of single-digit dinger totals are over -- ZiPS, Bill James and The Fans expect between 16 and 20 shots in 2012. With a little luck, he could creep up on 25. But expecting another 30 homer season from Ellsbury would be downright greedy, Red Sox fans.  


Cy Verlander MVP, Too

Justin Verlander added the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player Award to his rapidly expanding trophy case on Monday, becoming the first pitcher to win both MVP and Cy Young since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starter since Roger Clemens in 1986. Verlander posted a 250/57 K/BB ratio in 251 innings, taking the pitcher triple crown by also getting 24 wins and compiling a 2.40 ERA.

Verlander's MVP selection is sure to stir controversy. Going by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (which judges pitchers based on actual runs allowed), Verlander's 8.6 WAR puts him neck-and-neck with Jose Bautista (8.5) and ahead of other bandied-about candidates like Jacoby Ellsbury (7.2), Miguel Cabrera (7.1) and Curtis Granderson (5.2). But Fangraphs' WAR, which evaluates a pitcher by his fielding-independent stats, has Verlander with 7 WAR (he got a big boost from a .236 batting average on balls in play, over 50 points below his career average). That's below the likes of Ellsbury (9.4), Bautista (8.3), Cabrera (7.3) and even with Granderson. By results, Verlander was arguably the best. By process, perhaps not (though "luck" arguments can be made for hitters, too).

In any event, Verlander was truly awesome in 2011. Here are 13 tidbits on his MVP-Cy Young season -- one for each first-place MVP vote that he received.

- Verlander led all starters with an average fastball velocity of 95.1 mph. But he had a wide range in velocity, maxing out at 101 mph and going as low as 91-92 mph. Verlander pulled back a little bit early in the count (he averaged 94 mph on the first pitch) and dialed it up when he smelled a strikeout, sitting at 96.3 mph with two strikes.

- That fastball turned collectively turned hitters into Brandon Wood circa 2011. Opponents batted just .215/.290/.358 against Verlander's heat, compared to the .274/.345/.430 average versus starting pitchers.

- Verlander was all about the high heat: about 41 percent of his fastballs were thrown above the belt. David Price and Clayton Kershaw were the only starters to challenge hitters with more high fastballs.

- Lest you think he's fastball-obsessed, Verlander threw his heater a career-low 54 percent of the time. That's down from 59 percent in 2010, and a career-high 67 percent in 2009.

- There's a reason Verlander went to the fastball less often -- he's got three other filthy pitches in his mid-to-high 80s changeup, high-70s-low-80s curveball (each thrown 18-19 percent of the time) and his mid-80s slider (about 8 percent). Check out his opponent slugging percentages with those offerings:

Changeup: .345 SLG%, .385 average for SP

Curveball: .200 SLG%, .339 average for SP

Slider: .276 SLG%, .357 average for SP

- Largely because of the changeup and curve, Verlander had a big reverse platoon split in 2011. He dominated right-handed hitters (.617 on-base-plus slugging percentage), but he torched lefties to the tune of a .504 OPS. That was by far the best for a righty starter against lefty hitters (Matt Cain was second at .523, and Josh Beckett ranked third at a distant .562).

- Verlander threw just one out of every three changeups in the strike zone. You might think that's indicative of below-average control and command, but it was by design. Verlander spotted the change just off the outside corner:

Verlander's changeup location, 2011

Despite his low zone percentage with the pitch, about 80 percent of Verlander's changeups were classified as "competitive" pitches, meaning they were within 18 inches of the middle of the plate.

- With those changeups so close to the plate, hitters chased lots of them -- 42 percent, compared to the 36 percent average for starters.

- Overall, no starter threw more "competitive" pitches in 2011. After all, why nibble when you've got the best stuff on the planet?

- Verlander just about never hung a curveball high in the zone in 2011. Just three percent of his benders were thrown high, compared to 53 percent that were located at hitters' knees. That's a good way to allow just eight extra-base hits on the pitch all season long.

- The curveball was Verlander's main strikeout pitch, ringing up 95 hitters. Those Ks were split just about evenly between the swinging (48) and called (47) variety. That's in contrast to most starters, who get 3.5 swinging Ks with the curve for every called third strike. Verlander couldn't have been better in terms of location on the curveballs that fanned hitters. Talk about right on the black:

Location of Verlander's Ks with the curveball, 2011

- Speaking of painting the black, Verlander threw 47 curveballs right on the corners. Only curveball specialist Wandy Rodriguez did it more often.

- Verlander started fiddling with a slider in 2009 and it has gradually become a bigger part of his repertoire. He tossed it less than three percent of the time in '09, about seven percent in 2010 and 8-9 percent in 2011. The pitch is more of a hybrid cutter/slider, with short break and near-90 mph velocity. Now, hitters have to worry about two nasty breaking pitches in addition to baseball's best fastball and a killer changeup. Verlander's stuff really goes across the velocity and movement spectrum:

Release velocity and movement on Verlander's fastball (red), changeup (yellow), slider (green) and curveball (blue)

Good luck differentiating between fastball/changeup and slider/curve.

Verlander's MVP-winning 2011 season echoes that of Clemens in Boston 25 years ago. The Rocket tossed 254 innings, also won 24 games, led the league with a 2.48 ERA and just missed out on the triple crown by finishing second to Mark Langston in strikeouts. Clemens' WAR totals (7.9 Baseball-Reference, 8 Fangraphs) were right around those of a deserving position player (teammate Wade Boggs, who finished a distant seventh in balloting), though the pitcher got the honor.

Fans might not agree about whether Verlander was the best candidate, or if a pitcher should ever win MVP without being head and shoulders above contending position players. But I think we can all agree on this: Verlander is at his peak, and he'll be in the Cy Young/MVP discussion for the foreseeable future.



The 2011 200-hitsters

I've been curious about the players who have picked up at least 200 hits this season, who I refer to as "200-hitsters."

Here's a look at them through action on Sept. 26.

Rk Player H Tm G HR RBI BA
1 Adrian Gonzalez 211 BOS 157 27 117 .338
2 Jacoby Ellsbury 210 BOS 156 31 103 .323
3 Michael Young 210 TEX 157 11 105 .338
4 Starlin Castro 204 CHC 156 10 65 .306
5 Melky Cabrera 201 KCR 155 18 87 .305
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/27/2011.

Interesting group, don't you think?

Adrian Gonzalez and Starlin Castro lead their leagues in hits. Matt Kemp of the Dodgers has 192 hits for second place in the NL.

Let's take a look at the heat maps for each of these players and see what we see.

Adrian Gonzalez

114 of Gonzo's hits have been off of fastballsGonzo strength has been on the outside of the plate where he has produced 74 hits. However, as his shoulder has weakened so has his ability to drive balls pitched to him on the outside. Since August 1, he has only 17 hits on outside pitches and only nine off of fastballs.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury has 109 hits off fastballsYou can see that Jacoby has loved the inside quadrant all season long, but since August 1st, he has expanded his zone.

Since August1, Ellsbury has 71 hits including 14 homers

Michael Young

106 of Michael's hits have come on fastballsMichael Young has been killer this season on every thing middle in. If the Rangers make the World Series, I will be fascinated watching Cliff Lee and Doc Halladay paint that low and outside corner where Young has only eight hits this season.

Starlin Castro

Castro has 85 hits on fastballs and 40 on slidersCastro has been remarkably consistent hitting .307 before the All-Star break and .305 since. it's not as obvious, but middle down has produced 161 of his hits

Melky Cabrera

The switch-hitting Melky has 63 hits from the right side of the plate, 34 off of fastballsCabrera has 138 hits as a lefty with 65 coming off fastballsThe Melk Man hit .293 before the All Star break and has hit .322 with 89 hits since. Cabrera never had more than 149 hits in a season prior to 2011.

The five 200-hitsters are the most since we had eight in 2006 and 2007.