Even after Wednesday's respectable performance at the plate (1-for-3 with a walk), Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting a measly .130/.259/.174 on the young season. It's obscenely early, of course, and our 2012 data samples aren't even close to being adequate. In Ellsbury's case, though, is there cause for worry?
In 2011, Ellsbury authored a batting line of .321/.376/.552, which, in tandem with his excellent defense in center, made him a certifiable MVP candidate. A substantial spike in his line-drive rate and his HR/fly-ball percentage underpinned that breakout campaign. Ellsbury also continued to see a lot of fastballs in 2011. In fact, Ellsbury's percentage of fastball's seen has been greater than 60% in every one of his major-league seasons. Until this one.
In 2012, Ellsbury has seen fastballs just 46.4% of the time, which may suggest that teams are responding to his 2011 power spike by throwing him fewer such offerings. As Baseball Prospectus has noted, Ellsbury last season finally mastered the low-and-inside fastball, and that's something that's surely not lost on advance scouts around the league. See, for instance, the lefthanded-hitting Ellsbury's "swing and take" charts for the season to date (courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com):
As you can plainly see, fewer fastballs and almost no pitches in Ellsbury's newly established "low and inside" wheelhouse (the pitch map is visualized from the catcher's perspective, and the pitch codes translate as follows: FF = four-seam fastball, FT = two-seam fastball, FC = cut fastball, SL = slider, CU = curveball, and CH = changeup). In a decidedly related matter, Ellsbury has seen a relatively high number of changeups this season. Lasting trend or a function of the pitchers he's faced? It's probably some of both.
It bears repeating that we're barely more than a week into the regular season, and it's foolish to draw any lasting conclusions based on what's happened to date. With that said, though, Ellsbury's diet of pitches is something that bears monitoring. If he's going to revisit last season's excellence, then adjustments and growth may be in order.
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