The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury with the idea of putting him on top of the lineup to pair with Brett Gardner. At least, that's what the front office told us. To pay someone over $150 million, most teams expect more than speed and defense, they expect some top-notch hitting tools. Ellsbury has a history of hitting well, particularly for average. If you go back to 2011, you'll see that he's more than just a contact hitter, he has some very exciting power. Since his 32 home run season, the power has been quieted by some injury-plagued seasons. Ellsbury went nearly 1,000 plate appearances with just 13 home runs in Boston between 2012 and his free agency.
Despite what the Yankees say, part of their $20 million plus annual commitment to the center fielder is in the hopes that he regains his power stroke, particularly in Yankee Stadium. Left-handed hitters already have an advantage in the Bronx, but when you combine that with Ellsbury's history, it's not hard to see why the Yankees took a huge gamble on him.
So far he's hit just four home runs, but there are some recent signs that Ellsbury is adapting his swing to pull with some power.
In the first two weeks of the 2014 season, Ellsbury did the exact opposite of what the Yankees were hoping for. He hit a ton of ground balls to the right-side of the infield with most of his fly balls and line drives to the larger left field and center field.
In the second half of April, Ellsbury continued this trend, though he did at least see a couple of ground balls hit to left side.
Not much has changed in the first half of May, we're still seeing a ton of ground balls to the right side of the infield and fly outs to left field. After success over the first month of the season, it looks like teams started to figure out these trend, and although we didn't see any extreme shifts, outfielders were certainly shading him for line drives and fly balls to left field.
Ellsbury began to hit more ground balls to the opposite field at the end of May, and he used more of the outfield during this time too. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, and in the month of May he hit just .231/.317/.327.
Over the last two weeks, Ellsbury has been hitting like crazy and he's used all fields. This is exactly what the Yankees wanted when they signed him. He's pulling the ball hard to right field, as well as hitting line drives to left field. He's also had ground balls to both sides of the infield. Since May 28th, Ellsbury is hitting .393/.443/.554 with two home runs and three doubles. He's certainly on a hot streak, which may or may not continue, but what's most encouraging is his ability to spread the ball around the field. In the year of the shift, having the ability to place the ball is one of the most important tools of the game. Now that he's able to do that and pull the ball, it'll be exciting to see him re-enter Yankee Stadium after this trip to the West Coast.