Jacoby Ellsbury – After spending much of 2010 on the DL, Ellsbury has had a nice break out season in 2011. The main reason for his increase in production has been the ability of the 27 year old to more hit home runs. In over 1500 PA before 2011, he hit a total of 20 home runs. In less than 1/3 that number of PA this season, he has hit 16. I believe the spike in home runs is not caused by a change in his batting profile and can not be sustained.
Note: I am gone for the week and scheduled and wrote this article ahead of time so some of the stats may be a couple days old.
There are several items to look for to see if a batter has changed in order to hit more homes. The keys are making contact with the ball more, hitting more fly balls, the direction he hits those fly balls and how far the balls travel.
First, he is putting the ball in play about the same as in the past, maybe actually a little less. His BB% (7.5%) and K% (13.5%) are both a bit higher then his career averages (6.9% and 12.1%).
The second key is that his OFFB% this year (22.9%) is a bit higher then his career value (19.8%). These fly balls have been leaving the yard more often as seen by a jump in his HR/FB% from a career number of 7.8% to 15.2%.
An increase in home runs can usually attributed to hitting the ball further or hitting the ball into shorter corner OF porches. Jose Bautista did both of these two to accomplish his recent break out.
First, here is a look at the angles (-45 is the LF line and +45 is the RF line) of the fly balls and home runs, Ellsbury, a left handed hitter, has hit over the last 3 years. A LOESS averaging curve is added to look for trends.
He has been turning on the ball a bit more in 2011 than in the 2 previous seasons. It is not the at the level that that some hitters do, but it is an improvement.
Finally, the average distance of his outfield fly balls and home runs can be examined to see if he is actually hitting the ball further.
This season Ellsbury has not hit the ball any further than in previous seasons, actually less so.
There has not been a huge change in Ellsbury’s home run talent this season in my opinion. He is hitting more fly balls and more into the right field corner. On the other hand, he is hitting the ball less and a shorter distance. He may have been unlucky in hitting home runs in previous seasons and this season’s totals is a regression to the mean or this season could be his career year. Either way, I would expect his season home run total to be in the low teens in the future.