Extra Bases

Drew and Ellsbury, a comparison

The Red Sox have a once and future leadoff hitter and a current leadoff hitter, and their approaches at the plate and styles on the field hardly could be more different. You have Jacoby Ellsbury, the jitterbug center fielder who crashes into walls and steals home and, when he is at the plate, wants to hack. You have J.D. Drew, the easy-does-it right fielder whose grace makes you want to yawn. Ellsbury acts. Drew waits. You know Ellsbury is there. You may have to squint to see Drew.*

Isn’t it funny and fitting that, in that video linked above, Drew of all people stands at the plate, bat on his shoulder, and watches Ellsbury?


This is one reason why baseball is fun. They share the same outfield, and they both make their style work. Ellsbury, after going 1 for 2 with a homer yesterday, is now the Red Sox’ leading hitter at .303. (Kevin Youkilis, hitting .222 since June began, is down to .301, and that’s potentially a topic for another day). Drew’s .384 on-base percentage is second on the team, behind Youkilis’s .423.

Maybe Drew and Ellsbury could learn from one another, but maybe they’ve become major league players because each knows what makes himself work. Ellsbury was moved down in the order because his on-base percentage did not match that of a typical leadoff hitter. While numbers show he is walking more – and he drew a walk yesterday for the winning RBI – Ellsbury steadfastly has maintained he has done nothing different since being moved down about 30 games ago.

“When I’m aggressive, I’m a better hitter,” Ellsbury said. “Everyone wants me to walk, but when they’re throwing me strikes, I can’t walk, so I’ve got to be aggressive in the zone. When you swing at good pitches, you get good results.

“When you’re too patient, too relaxed, they just get up in the count on you and you have to battle from there. That’s when you have weak groundballs in play and your at-bat is a lot tougher than it should be.”


That approach has led to one of Ellsbury’s most powerful stretches of his career. Since June 13, he has four of his five homers and has hit one every 17.25 at-bats, which ties for 20th in the American League over that span.

“He said he’s like Barry Bonds,” Dustin Pedroia said. “He’s a speed guy to start, then he’s going to turn into a power hitter.” (“I don’t know where he got that from,” Ellsbury said.)

While Ellsbury was hitting a home run yesterday, Drew extended his remarkable knack for passivity. In five plate appearances, Drew walked twice and struck out twice. He watched 24 pitches, and all but one mattered only to him and the pitcher.

Drew this season has accounted for one the highest Toothpick Ratios in the AL. A Toothpick Ratio is a personal term for the percentage of a hitter’s at-bats that would be unchanged if he had taken a toothpick to the plate rather than a bat – a strikeout or a walk. Drew has struck out or walked in 39.1 percent of his plate appearances this season, the fifth highest Toothpick Ratio in the AL. The top 10:

Player K% BB% TPR
Rank Player K% BB% TPR
10 B.J. Upton 25.2 11.8 37.3
9 Jason Bay 23 14.4 37.4
8 Nick Swisher 21.6 16.1 37.7
6 Jack Cust 26.5 11.7 38.2
6 Josh Fields 28.4 9.4 38.2
5 J.D. Drew 23 16.1 39.1
4 Russell Branyan 28.1 11.9 40
3 Jim Thome 26 19.7 44.7
2 Carlos Pena 29.6 15.6 45.2
1 Chris Davis 41.2 6.1 47.3


Of the people on that list, the only two who seem to make looking at a lot of pitches a strategy are Drew, Thome, and Swisher. The others, to varying degrees, made this list more with a constant pattern of failure; Davis, it seems, falls into a walk every now and then on his way to another strikeout.

All of Drew’s called third strikes are maddening. Fans really, really hate it. You can tell in the park. But taking third strikes, in a way, is part of how Drew plays baseball. It’s not as fun to look at as Ellsbury’s way. People tend to favor action over inaction. But Drew’s style shares one thing with Ellsbury’s divergent strategy. It works.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com