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Starting tonight at left-stop....

...Jacoby Ellsbury. Stick with me here. Scutaro will move a little in and to the left. Ellsbury will play behind the dirt - of course! - but not too far off the infield. He'll play the most shallow left field in baseball history. How many balls would get over his head if he played very shallow? And the ones that do, would be doubles or homers, just as they would if he played deeper.

Seriously, it seems that he could play shallow in the Fens. Though, I guess I'll retreat from the short-field post a la softball.

Jacoby Ellsbury's speed in the relatively-small space of Fenway's leftfield might be the end of the single.

Yet, the conventional wisdom remains that the Sox should have a leftfielder who can mash at the plate rather than run in the field. Looking back through the years (here) as far back as I recognize the names, the Sox have really only had one guy who could really run in left: Tommy Harper (1973 and part of '74 years, he was in center in '72) - and maybe Billy Hatcher but he wasn't that fast and he was mostly a center fielder.

While I fully support of sticking the bat of Manny Ramirez or the Splendid Splinter in the shadow of the Green Monster, I think that we tend to look at this a bit backwords. Most people I talk to consider speed in Fenway's left field "a waste". However, while the size of the territory does somewhat mask slowness afoot of lumbering leftfielders, it also allows a swift sprinter in left to cover a rediculous precentage of the field of play.

And there are other advantages to the switch to left. I swear on my Red Sox hat that I will (almost) never again quote uber-evil-agent Scott Boras, but he had an interesting historic point about Ellsbury's switch to left: “The issue is that he’s so athletic offensively, stealing 70 bases and scoring 100 runs. Historically, the guys who do that, they all have to be left fielders because [center field is] just so demanding." Think Tim Raines, Carl Crawford, Lou Brock, Vince Coleman and Rickey being Rickey.

I think this is the right move for the Sox. This makes us a better team and does not set Ellsbury back in his developement - it probably helps in on the bases and lets him focus a little more on hitting. Ellsbury will simply move back whenever Cameron runs out of steam in the next two years.

Comments

Matt Bloomer said…
My friend Gallivan linked to your 2/22 blog entry; great analysis.

Here's some food for thought re: Ellsbury in left; would be interested in your/others' thoughts:

A. Given the relative small size of LF (at Fenway), I think the order of importance in predicting may go: 1) ability to read balls off the bat, 2) first step/quickness and 3) raw speed.

It's probably safe to say (looking at the stolen base numbers) that Ellsbury has elite quickness to go along with his elite speed. I haven't paid attention to his reads enough to give you my take on that part of his game, but my point would be that with so much ground to cover in CF, he could conceivably hide a lot of bad reads because he makes up for it with his speed. He'll have less real estate to make up for any bad reads in LF, so I think that aspect of his defense becomes the most important to consider in predicting how well he'll play the position at Fenway.

B. I think a case can be made for Ellsbury playing deeper because of his speed.

First of all, it's much easier to play balls in front of you versus having to go back for them. Secondly, you want to give yourself angles, particularly to the gap/line. Playing shallow would give him less opportunity to keep uncatchable singles (line drives, ground balls through the infield, etc.) from turning into doubles by getting into the gap or off the walls down the line. Finally, it's easier to both play and read the wall if you're already back there, rather than moving towards it with the fight of the ball.

So, I could potentially see him playing deep and relying on his speed to get to the balls that would be more routine if he played normal depth. There'd still be a similar number of singles that drop-in in front of him, but playing deeper might prevent more extra base hits.
Wally said…
Matt - thanks for stopping by. I think you make some really good points. You're probably right about the second one - and maybe the first - since I've heard the knock on Ellsbury is his ability to go back on balls. The Monster could definitely hide that well. Also, playing deeper should mean fewer high speed collisions with the wall itself which might save a year or two on his career.

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