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How Jacoby Ellsbury Can Break Out of His Slump

It’s no secret that Jacoby Ellsbury has badly struggled since being activated from the disabled list on July 8th. After batting .324/.412/.372 to help the Yankees jump out to a 22-18 start before going down with a right knee sprain on May 19th, Ellsbury has gone just .198/.241/.358 since returning.

There’s a certain amount of luck reflected in these performances. Ellsbury’s hot start was a product of some good fortune, as his .379 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) through that first month and a half was far higher than his career BABIP of .321, which indicates that Ellsbury was experiencing good luck and his .324 overall batting average was unsustainable. His BABIP since early July has been only .213, signaling that he’s getting unlucky because he’s hitting the ball directly at opposing fielders.

However, the largest problem is Ellsbury’s pitch selection. He’s begun to swing at more pitches outside of the zone: 33%, versus 29% of pitches outside the zone in April and May. Whereas Ellsbury used to make contact with 83% of pitches outside the zone that he swung at—signaling that he was a pretty good bad-ball hitter—he now only makes contact with 68% of pitches outside the zone. While he’s making contact with the same amount of pitches that he swings at inside the zone, this all adds up to a 7% drop in Ellsbury’s contact-per-swing rate.

As a result, the centerfielder’s strikeout rate has increased by 8% while his walk rate has correspondingly dropped 6%. This has been a large cause of Ellsbury’s troubles to get on base.

When he does manage to make contact, Ellsbury has also had a few problems, but they’re not as great as those that he’s had in his pitch selection. His line drive percentage has dropped by 2%, and his average batted ball exit velocity has dropped by about 2 MPH, but since he only has about 130 total batted balls for the whole season, these decreases aren’t big enough to be statistically significant given the slightly small sample size. Moreover, he’s also hit the ball up the middle more and he’s had eight extra-base hits (including four home runs) since returning.

So, Ellsbury’s biggest issues are his bad luck and his pitch selection. He won’t keep a .213 BABIP forever, which means he won’t keep a .198 batting average forever. However, until he becomes more discriminating with the pitches he swings at, we won’t see anything close to the hitter we saw burst out of the gate in the beginning of the season.