During the 2013-2014 offseason, the New York Yankees signed a bunch of superstars to help with the franchise’s needs. The three biggest stars that would now be donning pinstripes were Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Each of them was brought in for a specific purpose, and because they were the best players the Yankees thought would help bring them another championship.
While McCann and Beltran have been struggling in New York, both hitting in the .230 range in the last two seasons combined, Ellsbury is starting to turn into the leadoff hitter they hoped they would get. Jacoby was overshadowed with all the personalities in Boston including Ortiz and Pedroia, and the Yankees wanted to make him a cornerstone of the franchise for the next 7 years. Ellsbury struggled in his first year as a Yankee, registering career-lows in seasons with 100+ games played, in batting average, stolen bases, and on-base percentage. This initially caused concern for fans, as they thought this was just another year where the Yankees were just throwing away money at old, washed up superstars. They saw their beloved Yankees finish 84-78, second in the AL East (barely) and missing the playoffs. Coming from a long storied tradition of winning, not having a shot to play in the postseason is unacceptable.
But that was the past, and the Yankees as well as Ellsbury have turned it around. The Yankees currently sit in first place in the AL East, with a 2-game lead over the Rays, and that success is partially due to Jacoby Ellsbury playing like the star he is. Ellsbury is hitting .333 this season, which is tied for 13th best in baseball. His 14 stolen bases put him only behind Billy Hamilton, who is faster than the speed of light, and his .415 OBP is good enough for 11th best in the bigs. Ellsbury has also scored 28 runs, which is the most in baseball this year. The speedy leadoff man also has a 1.6 WAR, which is best on the club for hitter and 14th in baseball. This is what the Yankees had hopped to get and continue to get in Ellsbury.
A key element to the Yankees success this year has been the ability to score first. In 38 games this year, the Yankees have pushed a run across in the first frame in 16 games, which is the most in the MLB. The Yankees 36 first inning runs is also the most amongst teams thus year. Ellsbury is a key reason for this early success in games. Getting on base 40% of the time, it makes the RBI guys like A-Rod or Teixeira a lot easier. Knowing that they will go up in the first with either Ellsbury or Gardner on base is a huge relief.
But this early scoring doesn’t only help the offence. Scoring first also gives pitchers a lot of confidence to go out there and do their thing, knowing they have an early lead and that more runs will come throughout the game. The ability to bury teams and take them out of a game early helps the Yankees not only win games, but the team clicks in such a way where they feel that they can beat anyone on any given day, and that’s not something that a lot of teams can say. Some teams in baseball not only have trouble scoring runs, but winning games and this causes a concern for their success to come. That’s not the deal with the Yankees. They’re clicking on all cylinders right now and if this keeps up, they can keep playing deep into the postseason.
Jacoby Ellsbury and his ability to get on base and come around to score is the key to the Yankees success this year. If Ellsbury had ben playing at his 2014 self, my guess is that the Yankees would be a few games under .500, maybe 3rd in the East if they’re lucky, and fans including myself would be calling for Brian Cashman’s head. Hopefully he can keep getting hits, and that the offense behind him continues to do its job and bring him home.