Jacoby Ellsbury Shattered an All-Time Record

The Indians just signed Brandon Guyer to a very modest contract extension. If you know Guyer, it’s for one of two reasons. A small number of you might know Guyer personally. A greater number of you know Guyer for his skill at being hit by things. Guyer is a specialist when it comes to finding an alternate path to first base. Here he is, doing his thing:

Call it cheap if you want, but what works works. Despite being a part-time player, Guyer just led the league in hit-by-pitches. For his career, he’s been hit by a pitch 66 times, while he’s been walked on four balls 61 times. Just last season, Guyer was hit by a pitch in 9% of his plate appearances, a rate which was 10 times higher than the league average. Ten times higher than the league average! Guyer is a statistical weirdo, but you have to love him for it. Unless, you know, you’re pitching.

Guyer is a bit of a competitive annoyance because of his specialty. And yet, as the freaks go, he’s out-classed. Guyer specializes at one arguably cheap way to reach base. Jacoby Ellsbury specializes at another. We’ve gone over this before, but we’re doing it again. Last year, Guyer’s rate of reaching by HBP was 10 times the league average. Last year, Ellsbury’s rate of reaching on catcher’s interference was 94 times the league average. Ellsbury managed one of the most extraordinary statistical accomplishments in the history of the game.

I first wrote about Ellsbury and catcher’s interference in 2013, when Ellsbury pulled it off four times. That sounds so cute nowadays. But, to be clear, four in a season is notable. Few players ever get to four in a season. This past July, I wrote a little about Ellsbury again, because he’d already made it to eight. Officially, he finished at 12. Jacoby Ellsbury reached base this past season a full 12 times on catcher’s interference alone. Second place was a tie between Aaron Hill and Angel Pagan. They tied at three. C.J. Cron reached on catcher’s interference twice. Nobody else did it more than once. There were just 39 of these calls, and Ellsbury was responsible for almost a third of them.

Here is catcher’s interference No. 9. This happened on July 19.

There’s nothing to argue; the glove came clean off. There’s only one reason for that to ever happen, and it entitles the hitter to first. The game didn’t subsequently pause for very long, and Ellsbury didn’t take a call from the commissioner or a representative for the Hall of Fame. But with that ninth catcher’s interference — on July 19 — Ellsbury broke the all-time record, previously set by Roberto Kelly. The record for a single season had been eight. It wasn’t a record worth anyone knowing. Not until now. And Ellsbury, obviously, wasn’t finished.

A week and a half later, No. 10 was a delight. Double play! Just kidding.

Near the end of August, Ellsbury drew No. 11, against the Royals. And then, near the end of September, he drew No. 12, again victimizing the Orioles.

You see Matt Wieters’ shoulders slump. He initially tried to play it off like just another foul ball, but when the umpire called him on his interference, there was no visible protest. That’s one of the things about catcher’s interference — the catchers always know they did wrong. You can’t really not notice when a baseball bat hits the glove you’ve got one of your hands in. Here’s a replay, just to give you a better understanding of how this works:

Ellsbury hangs out near the back of the box. That’s part of it. He takes a good number of swings off his back foot. That’s also part of it. The back-swing is a third part of it. It’s no mystery why Ellsbury draws the occasional interference. It’s more of a mystery why he suddenly drew so many of them. Catchers and coaches have been aware of this for some time. Remember that so many present coaches are former catchers, and former catchers know what to look out for to help current catchers. Ellsbury’s idiosyncrasies are no secret, yet a whole dozen times, catchers found themselves reaching too far forward. It combined to improve Ellsbury’s effective on-base percentage by 13 points. Catcher’s interference doesn’t go into the formula, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incrementally valuable.

It’s such a weird but incredible thing. Last regular season, there were 2,428 baseball games. In 38 of those games was there a call for catcher’s interference. That means, on average, there was catcher’s interference every 64 games or so. I’d say even the average semi-serious baseball fan falls short of watching 64 complete games a season, so that average fan likely wouldn’t have seen any catcher’s interference, unless he or she watched some Yankees. It’s an event you almost never think about. Broadcasters of opposing teams were mostly caught off guard this year when Ellsbury was awarded his bags. It’s one of the most unusual ways to reach, but Ellsbury had as many interference calls as Brandon Crawford had home runs. As Anthony Rendon had stolen bases. As Mike Trout had intentional walks.

Remember that Ellsbury didn’t just set a new record. The old record was eight. The new record is 12. Ellsbury beat the old all-time record by half. In the most basic terms, that’s like someone finishing with 393 hits, or 207 steals, or 77 hit-by-pitches, or 110 home runs. When records fall, they’re supposed to fall by the narrowest of margins. They’re supposed to fall in the final days of the season. They’re not supposed to fall by 50%, and they’re not supposed to fall right after the All-Star break. I want you to understand how insane this is. It’s annoying, and it’s stupid, and in the end it hardly matters, but there has been so much baseball in the history of baseball. There have been players like Jacoby Ellsbury. There have been players better than Jacoby Ellsbury. There have been players with weird swings and other weirder quirks. Ellsbury just did something no one has ever come even particularly close to doing for as long as we’ve got notes and records.

For whatever it’s worth, because Ellsbury reached on interference 12 times, there were 12 Yankees plate appearances immediately following said interference. How annoying is it to see an opponent reach on that kind of technicality? In six of those 12 following plate appearances, the Yankee hitter reached on a hit or a walk. Doesn’t have to mean much, but I might as well take advantage of the .500 OBP to suit my argument that pitchers get a little knocked off their own games. How couldn’t they be? It sucks.

Thanks to the 2016 surge, Ellsbury’s career catcher’s-interference total stands at 26. Now, that mark is not a record. The record stands at 29, and it was set by Pete Rose over 15,890 career plate appearances. Ellsbury is 33 years old, with 4,966 career plate appearances. In theory, now, passing Rose ought to be easy before Ellsbury’s playing days are done. It ought to be easy before 2018. Perhaps it ought to be doable before next June. I don’t know how catchers are going to adjust moving forward, but if the most recent year is any indication, they don’t actually really know what they’re doing. Ellsbury’s back-swing presumably hasn’t found the last bit of leather it’ll find.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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hurricanexyz
Member
Member
hurricanexyz

Is this intentional on Ellsbury’s part (i.e. is he making a conscious effort to hit the gloves) and if so, is that okay? Seems like you could hurt a catcher’s hand that way.

kbn
Member
kbn

You can ask the same question (with a lot more strength in the argument) about Guyer, who actively strides into the strike zone as he swings and makes no effort to get out of the way. Or, for that matter, about Rizzo, who’s right elbow is EVER so close to the strike zone as he awaits the pitch.

While I have my personal doubts about Guyer’s legitimacy (since there’s actually a pair of rules which deal with this specific situation), I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Ellsbury or Rizzo. Ellsbury is undeniably weird, and he’s welcome to swing in any (legal) method that he chooses.

This whole thing is sort of like Carter Capps’ fringy release. If more people were doing it, the league would adjust either by implementing rules or developing opposing techniques (e.g. catchers not reaching forward quite so much). But since it’s such an anomaly, it doesn’t cross the threshold of “we have to do something about this”, either from the commissioner’s OR the coach’s perspectives.

jianadaren
Member
jianadaren

Rizzo and Guyer have the same rule, because it’s “failure to avoid being hit”. Passivity breaks the rule.

Ellsbury’s activity is exactly right: the catchers are cheating when they get too close, trying to keep runners in check, prevent wild pitches in the dirt, or give the umpire a better look.

The defence should be punished if they get hit with a swing.

kbn
Member
kbn

> Rizzo and Guyer have the same rule, because it’s “failure to avoid being hit”. Passivity breaks the rule.

Passivity is only part of it with Guyer. Also Rizzo does try to move out of the way more often than not. With Guyer, the second part is the rule against standing outside the batter’s box. I don’t see him doing anything quite as emotionally egregious as what Tebata did to break up Scherzer’s perfect game in 2015, since it is “just” part of his swing mechanics, but that doesn’t make it less illegal in my view.

Anon
Member
Anon

Seems unlikely. I was going to say it’s just the way his emergency defensive hack sets up since 2 of the videos above are just that and it makes sense, however the 2nd video above (Interference #10) is a legit swing. I don’t think he’s shaping his regular swing with the idea of drawing catcher’s interference calls. Dude just hits off his back foot.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

Ellsbury cannot possibly anticipate the catcher’s action. As Anon says a lot of these are emergency hacks and as his offensive game has gone south more of these weak back-footed pokes have shown up. Geyer, on the other hand, brings back fond memories of Don Baylor and Ron Hunt. Whether he is actually diving into pitches is debatable but what is clear is that he is more than willing to “take one for the team” when an inside pitch comes along.