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Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury is more than a distraction

He hits, scores, steals bases and plays great defense . . . and can get into the Angels' pitchers heads quite effectively.

October 07, 2009|Kevin Baxter

He is the only Red Sox starter who has not gone to an All-Star game. And he has hit fewer home runs in his three major league seasons than hulking teammate David Ortiz has hit since late June.

Yet despite the fact he is surrounded by big-name sluggers, no one is more important in making the Red Sox's high-powered offense go than tiny speedster Jacoby Ellsbury.

When Ellsbury scores a run -- and he is second on the team with 94 of them -- the Red Sox win three-quarters of the time. And when he gets a hit -- he leads the team with 188 of those -- the Red Sox have gone 73-41.

Hold him hitless, however, and Boston loses more than 60% of the time.

That is because Ellsbury arguably does more to disrupt opponents that any other player on the Red Sox. And what has not been mentioned is his franchise-record 70 stolen bases in 83 attempts, which leads the major leagues.

"It's always tough when you've got a burner like that, a fast runner. Because it's almost a guarantee that they're going to score that run if he's on first base with no outs," says Angels left-hander Scott Kazmir.

"Just because he's either going to steal or he'll just stay at first base and drive a pitcher crazy. Your attention is split with Ellsbury. Then you've got an All-Star hitter up."

But Ellsbury can get in a pitcher's head even before he gets to first base. Over the last two seasons, roughly 20% of his base hits never left the infield, which Kazmir says can be especially maddening.

"And it always ends up happening right after two strikes," Kazmir says.

"He knows his game, and he plays it well."

An overlooked part of that game is defense, in which Ellsbury also excels. Despite playing half the season in Fenway Park's spacious center field, with its tricky angles off the wall, Ellsbury, 26, has only two errors in 325 games.

After starting 28 games as a rookie in 2007, Ellsbury hit a team-high .438 in Boston's World Series sweep of Colorado. The former first-round draft pick hit .333 in the Red Sox's division series win over the Angels last fall.

-- Kevin Baxter

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