Wednesday night in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, Indians reliever Joe Smith had two outs and an 0-1 count on Jacoby Ellsbury when he made a mistake. Smith let a 90-m.p.h. fastball get too much of the plate, and Ellsbury pounded it the other direction. For the second night in a row, Ellsbury played the hero. Tuesday, Ellsbury lined a walk-off single to score Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Wednesday, Ellsbury blasted a walk-off home run to score himself.
The home run was interesting for four main reasons:
(1) It won the game!
(3) The home run sailed out to straightaway center field in Fenway, which is no joke.
(4) The home run was Ellsbury's 18th of the season.
Yes, that's 18 home runs for Jacoby Ellsbury. If you aren't familiar with Jacoby Ellsbury, or if you just started watching baseball this season, that may not mean very much to you. But to put that in perspective, consider the following groups. The first group is a group of Ellsbury's most similar hitters in terms of HR/plate appearance in 2007-2010. The second group is a group of Ellsbury's most similar hitters in terms of HR/plate appearance in 2011.
Put another way, Ellsbury has two fewer home runs in 493 plate appearances this season than he had in the first 1,510 plate appearances of his career, before this season. It's plainly evident that Ellsbury has kicked his power way, way up.
And what does that make him? It makes him a guy who can hit for average, get on base, hit for power, run well, and play center field. In other words, it makes him a superstar. You may want more proof that this is for real before you slap that label on his back, and that's fine, but if Ellsbury isn't a superstar yet, he's getting there, and he's getting there a year after missing all but 18 games with cracked ribs.
The consistent power is a stunning development from a guy who never really hit for power in the past. We've looked at Ellsbury's major league track record. He hit ten home runs in the minors, over nearly 1,200 trips. Even in college, he was more of a speedster than a slugger, knocking seven, three, and six home runs for Oregon State from 2003 through 2005. A Google search for "Jacoby Ellsbury" + "Juan Pierre" yields 187,000 results for a reason.
Yet while it's tempting to call Ellsbury's power a fluke, since he hasn't done this before, I'd like to call your attention to the following home run, which Ellsbury hit off Rich Hill in Baltmore in June 2009:
That is a blast to center field that left the yard in a hurry. Hit Tracker Online measured it at 436 feet. That's what I like to call proof of concept. You can't fake that kind of power. You either have it or you don't, and Ellsbury showed that he had it.
Ellsbury always had the capability to hit home runs. It was just a matter of channeling that power on a more consistent basis, and in 2011, it appears that he's done it. He's hit a few wall-scrapers, sure, but he's also hit 12 home runs at least 400 feet. This doesn't look like a fluke. This looks like it's for realsies.
Jacoby Ellsbury isn't making way more contact than he ever has. He isn't hitting way more fly balls than he ever has. There's little about Ellsbury's approach that seems to have changed. He's just putting better swings on the balls that he hits, and as a consequence his home-run rate is through the roof.
Jacoby Ellsbury: current or imminent superstar. Because the Red Sox need the break.