Why Jacoby Ellsbury Shouldn’t Bat Third
Joe Girardi moved his most productive hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury, from the lead-off position to the three hole in Monday night’s series opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He has made this move on several other occasions this season, especially when giving the slumping Carlos Beltran the night off. This pattern needs to stop. Ellsbury needs to remain batting leadoff. Ellsbury is a dynamic lead-off hitter in the mold of Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines. The three spot in the Yankee lineup is reserved for run producers like Don Mattingly or Paul O’Neill.
Ellsbury has been far and away the most consistent and best hitter on the Yankees in 2014. He is batting .333 with 10 doubles and 14 RBI. He has slash line of .390/.486/.877. He is leading the team in batting average, RBI, hits, on base percentage, runs scored, steals, and OPS. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best hitter on the team bats third. Ellsbury is the best hitter; ergo he should bat third. Except when you bat Ellsbury third you negate power out of the third spot in the lineup and you negate his speed. The 3-4-5 spots in any lineup are run producing slots. These are your big RBI spots. Generally, the guys driving in runs are your best hitters.
Ellsbury is not a power hitter. He has 66 career home runs with 32 of them coming in his outlier 2011 season. Hitting him third will not result in more power. You are simply losing a home run hitting spot in the lineup. Ellsbury’s greatest asset is his speed. When he leads off, generally Derek Jeter is hitting behind him. Jeter takes a lot of pitches in general and rarely hits for power which gives Ellsbury a chance to steal. When Ellsbury hits third, guys like Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann follow. These some of the best long ball threats the Bombers have in the lineup. You don’t want to take the bat out of their hands or risk losing base runners by trying to steal. Thus, Ellsbury will have less opportunities to do the one thing that makes him a truly special player.
I will fully admit that Brett Gardner is fully capable of bating lead-off and would thrive there. Except for one thing. Gardner, for reasons unexplained, is hesitant to steal with Jeter and others hitting behind him. Gardner has otherworldly speed and led the league in stolen bases before, so his hesitancy is questionable. And if he will not use his speed at the top of the order, he deserves to bat at the bottom as he brings little else to the table.
Keeping Ellsbury in the one hole and Gardner in the second half of the lineup will also help lengthen the lineup on days when Beltran rests. A lineup of Ellsbury, Jeter, Teixeira, Soriano, McCann, Yangervis Solarte, Gardner, Brian Roberts, and Ichiro has speed throughout the lineup and mixes and matches lefties and righties throughout. The power is clustered in the middle of the lineup when it should be able to do the most damage and Ellsbury is his rightful place at the top of the lineup where he can excel.