Ellsbury's Return Already Paying Dividends

Ellsbury vs OAK A quick glance at the box scores of Jacoby Ellsbury's first 2 games back in the lineup wouldn't tell you much.  He's gone 1-4 in both games hitting from his customary leadoff spot, drawn a walk, scored a run, drove in 2, and struck out twice.  His 2-run single yesterday afternoon was the go-ahead hit for the Yankees, sure, but it's not like he come back and picked up right where he left off, racking up multi-hit and multi-run games while stealing a ton of bases.  He hasn't even attempted a steal in these first 2 games.

The most important statistic to pull from this minute sample size would actually be the Yankees' record: 2-0.  They've been on the winning side both times with Ellsbury plugged back in at the top of the order, and while the counting statistics might not jump off the screen, Ellsbury's presence and the value he brings back to the team has been shown in small ways.

For starters, him going back to the leadoff spot allows Brett Gardner to bump back down to the #2 spot behind him.  With the way Gardner's been hitting lately, that #2 spot is the perfect spot for him.  The Yankees were at their best offensively earlier in the season when Ellsbury and Gardner were tearing it up in the top 2 spots.  They have that dynamic back for the first time in a while now, and Gardner's recent power surge brings a new and even more dangerous wrinkle to that dynamic.

The domino effect of Gardner moving down is an overall lengthening of the lineup.  We've yet to see Ellsbury in with the full "regular" lineup, but when we do we'll see him setting the table for a very potent A-Rod-Teix-McCann trio in the heart of the order.  We'll also see guys like Chris Young, Chase Headley (when he's healthy), and Carlos Beltran (ditto) go back down to the 6-7 spots in the lineup, spots that they're probably better suited for and spots that they'll add a little thump to before getting to the bottom third.

Ellsbury's speed will also be a welcome return to a lineup that hasn't featured much with him out.  No stolen bases yet, but he did go first to third and second to home on base hits yesterday.  That's a sign that his legs are feeling good and that was one of my bigger concerns when the Yankees elected to activate him.  That speed, or even the threat of it, could have impacted Marcus Semien's error in the 8th inning yesterday.  Sure he's already a burning garbage pile defensively, but even the thought of Ellsbury running down to first on that play could have been enough to encourage those garbage pile tendencies to come out.  There aren't many Yankees who give infielders cause to rush when they're going down the line.  Ellsbury is one who does and the one who does most often.

Of course there's the defensive upgrade that comes as a byproduct of Ellsbury's speed as well, and it will be reassuring to know that the Yankees are going back to having 75-80% of the outfield covered at all times with him in center and Gardner in left.  Young getting more time in right and presumably taking on the responsibility of Beltran's late-game defensive replacement gives the Yanks a very strong defensive crew out there for the first time in months.

Everybody knows what kind of player Ellsbury is by now.  There's nothing here that's new and nothing he'll do on the field that will come as a shock.  And while he hasn't come out of the gate on fire in his first 2 games back, he has brought back a couple of key elements that have been missing from the Yankee mix.  The leadoff presence, the lineup lengthening, the speed on the basepaths, the defensive reliability, it's all been there in small doses.  As the rest of the lineup gets healthier and comes back together, and as Ellsbury gets completely back into his everyday routine, I think we'll see that dosage increase.