Jacoby Ellsbury is stealing, yet power is reeling


Jacoby Ellsbury in mid stride as he steals second.
Jacoby Ellsbury is running wild, but his power has been tamed so far this season.

Jacoby Ellsbury has been running wild lately. Starting with his five-steal outburst in Philadelphia at the end of May, Ellsbury’s swiped 14 bases in his past eight games. That gives him 30 steals on the season, tied with San Diego’s Everth Cabrera for most in the majors. Not even the groin tightness that forced Ellsbury to the bench for five games at the beginning of June can slow him down.

It’s classic Jacoby Ellsbury, who once stole home off Andy Pettitte and now has a chance to lead the league in steals for the third time in his career. Two seasons removed from a fluke year in which he finished second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP voting by slugging 32 home runs and stealing 39 bases, Ellsbury has reverted to the Punch and Judy player he was in 2008 and 2009, when he went deep 17 times but stole 120 bases, leading the American League in ’08 and both leagues in ’09. Ellsbury’s 30 thefts are impressive, but what’s even more impressive is that he’s been caught only three times, giving him a 90.9 percent success rate. When he gets the green light from John Farrell, there’s not much opposing pitchers and catchers can do to stop him.

Even so, Jacoby Ellsbury’s performance to date has been somewhat disappointing. Yes, Boston’s centerfielder has regained his status as one of the sport’s premier basestealers, but his power stroke has all but disappeared. With over one-third of the 2013 season already in the books, the pending free agent has gone yard once — all the way back on April 7 in Toronto. He’s now gone 264 plate appearances (and counting) without a home run. Ellsbury’s never going to provide much pop, but he can and should be better than Juan Pierre in this regard.

However, Ellsbury seems to be turning his season around after slumping through most of May. He’s shown signs of life at the plate with 22 hits, including eight of the extra base variety, in his past dozen games. It’s encouraging to see him drive the ball with authority again; the Red Sox need their leadoff man to set the table by getting on base in front of Dustin PedroiaDavid Ortiz and Mike Napoli. Boston’s offense is much more dangerous when Jacoby Ellsbury uses his speed as a weapon to distract pitchers and get himself into scoring position.

But it all starts in the batter’s box. Even Jacoby Ellsbury can’t steal first base.

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