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Cockrell: Ellsbury needs to attack the ball sooner

It is no secret that when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract after the 2013 season, they expected big things from him.

His best season came in his first with the Yankees when he hit .271/.328/.419 with 16 home runs and 70 runs batted in. Since then however, he hit .257 and .263 with a total of 16 home runs.

During today’s Winter Warmup event at Yankee Stadium, Yankees’ hitting coach Alan Cockrell said that Ellsbur has to “get back to some of the things that he did, and staying with it, not changing lanes so often.”

Ellsbury, while trying to make adjustments to his hitting approach, lets the ball travel further back in his stance before attacking. Because the contact point is further back, he has also connected with the catcher’s mitt a record nine times in 2016 — the most catcher’s interferences calls for one season in baseball history.

“Moving his contact out front more — I’ve never seen a guy hit the catcher’s mitt like he did,” Cockrell said. “When his contact point was three or four inches out front, he can stay on balls.”

This is a crucial adjustment for Ellsbury. In 2011, while with the Red Sox, he was second in the MVP voting and finished the year with a .321 average, 32 home runs, and 39 stolen bases while playing a career-high 158 games.

“Looking back at his big years in Boston, his contact point was three to four inches further out front,” Cockrell said. “We tailor his cage routine, his maintenance work, to where we’re moving contact three or four inches out in front of his body.”

This adjustment will hopefully bring more contact like he enjoyed during his final season in Boston, when the center fielder hit .298 with 31 doubles. Ellsbury seems to have lost most of his power but the Yankees are confident he can return to the hitter he once was.

“We’re not looking for power production, but he can be a very, very productive hitter,” Cockrell said.

If the Yankees want to return to the postseason, having a healthy and productive Jacoby Ellsbury will continue to be a big factor.