The pressure is on Jacoby Ellsbury to live up to his contract with the New York Yankees, and a flaw in his swing is making it impossible. 

The New York Yankees find themselves in an ugly marriage with Jacoby Ellsbury that many see ending in an even uglier divorce.

It didn’t start out that way, as New York justifiably put a $153 million ring on one of the best outfielders the game had to offer.

From 2007-13 with the Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury ranked 4th in batting average (.297), 3rd in stolen bases (241) and 13th in triples (31) among all outfielders across the sport.

However, all general manager Brian Cashman can do now is weep in dismay on why the man that finished second in the AL MVP voting in 2011 has crumpled into mediocrity.

Since signing the deal on Dec. 7, 2013, Ellsbury has seen a nine percent decrease in batting average, a ten percent decrease in OPS and a six percent decrease in OBP.

Basically, once upon a time, Ellsbury was one of the best outfielders the game has to offer while now, saying he’s a shell of himself is probably putting it modestly.

It’s not just on the field, as New York has displayed no dependence on Ellsbury as a veteran leader that has won two World Series and has played in 39 postseason games.

Take the benching in 2015’s Wild Card game, and being benched in multiple “must win” games last season as prime examples.

But what happened? What possibly went wrong that one of baseball’s stars has been unable to live up to the number of zeros pasted on his paycheck?

Some point to the fact that he can’t stay on the field, but he’s played in 136 games per year with the Yankees compared to 102 with the Red Sox.

Perhaps we’ve blamed the wrong reason, while completely ignoring the evidence that sits right in the obscure record Ellsbury set in 2016.

For those unaware, Ellsbury set the single-season record with 10 catcher’s interferences in 2016 and is second on the all-time list, with 24. Unique, right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not an ideal kind of unique.

Throughout his first eight years of his career (seven in Boston, one in New York), Ellsbury reached base via catcher’s interference 11 times. In that same span, the 33-year old slashed .293/.347/.435 with an OPS of .782. That was while averaging 1.3 catcher’s interferences per year.

Over the last two years, he has reached base in that unordinary fashion 15 times (7.5 per year), associated with a .260/.324/.361 slash line with an OPS of .695.

Coincidence? Not quite. In fact, what’s the mechanical reason behind a swing that consistently makes contact with the opposition’s catcher? Well, it’s actually one of the most common hitting problems.

Take a look at this screenshot of a slow-motion gif, made by pastime athletics, of a Jacoby Ellsbury home run from his glory days in Boston:

Note where the end of his bat is as his swing begins. There is about an estimated foot between the lumber and the catcher’s glove while as you look at the following screenshot, the point in which Jacoby makes contact with this home run is made inside the front foot:

This swing is short, compact and to the point (literally) and, as mentioned, it resulted in one of the 65 home runs he smacked while representing the Red Sox.

Throughout the duration of the swing above, watch how the back elbow proceeds tight to the rib cage while the barrel of the ball remains level with the hands — to avoid dragging the barrel and promoting a line drive tendency.

This approach also keeps the hands “inside the ball” which keeps you from stretching out the front arm and sweeping the barrel around to the point of contact.

Speaking of sweeping the barrel, let’s shift our focus to a swing from this past season:

Now, the first mistake Ellsbury makes is probably the most common imperfection one could see in a hitter’s swing.

The front arm is completely extended immediately which usually leads to a hitter being slow to the ball which consequently leads to them being late on a good fastball.

This particular swing was actually a 92 mph knee-high meatball from Tampa Bay Rays’ righty Matt Andriese and notice how it’s already in the picture as Ellsbury’s swing is a quarter of the way through.

Worst of all, this ordinary fastball eats the former silver slugger up, as the point of contact is about five inches further than it was in the previous image.

This swing completely diminishes the opportunity for Ellsbury to make good consistent contact and certainly gives the pitcher a chance to get away with mistakes or even exploit him to perfection with a breaking ball.

With Ellsbury’s hands way above the barrel in the picture above as he follows through, the front elbow rises up, causing the barrel to drop and loop around the hands.

In correlation, the elbow shoots downward near the back hip which, as the swing progresses, results in the front shoulder lifting higher producing an abnormal tilt.

 The ball already surpasses Ellsbury’s front foot as his swing is, again, 1/4 of the way completed. Hands are above the barrel, swing has already begun to “loop.” Credit: Noah K. Murray-USATSI

All that habit does is promote swing and misses, lazy fly balls and jam shots.

Keeping that elbow in without watching it fall to the dirt will increase his capability of keeping the front shoulder down while thrusting the knob of the bat down and to the inside of the baseball.

It’s extraordinarily night and day for the former all-star, especially if you look at where the contact is made in the first image compared to the second.

The key for Ellsbury is to attempt to get that point of contact back towards the front foot while avoiding premature extension.

Thankfully, hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working to get bring back his center fielder’s swagger.

“You want to see the ball a little bit better, your timing gets messed up, you’re late and the ball is beating you deep,” Cockrell told the NY Daily News. “If we can just simplify it, we need to move contact out front. He’s a big-league hitter and he’s going to get himself ready to hit. It should help.”

So, yes. After three years and over $63 million handed to a former superstar, his production has gotten so disheartening that one would wonder if Cashman is thinking about eating a ton of money for his release.

However, there’s an explicit blemish in his mechanics and the outfielder has the potential to shift this “marriage in shambles” to a “happy ever after.”

Nonetheless, it won’t be easy. Hours upon hours of work with Cockrell will be needed to salvage this contract. The question is: is he willing to put in the work?

If that answer is an astounding “yes,” then his presence could reconstruct the Yankees’ offense with a top of the order strength and an influential table-setter for the middle of the order — something Ellsbury has yet to be (consistently) in the Bronx.



  1. OR perhaps the front arm is straight because he’s reaching lower and across the plate at a pitch that has more late downward movement? Dunno about that “3-4 inches out front” stuff but that pitch was surely 3-4 inches lower.
    Either way it doesn’t explain the CIs. What explains that is the load point with his hands and the backwards sweeping motion. It’s slower due to age. He needs to raise his bat angle and load downwards not backwards. That generally fixes a late swing due to load issues.

    • The swing is LONG. Which does starts at the top, and immediately dips that inside arm down towards the dirt instead of inside to the ribs. The photo towards the bottom right (in NY) was a higher pitch, too, and he was still beat with the shoulders causing the swoop. All in all, he developed a long swing over time (whether it’s a habit or compensating for lost strength due to injury) and needs to be shorter (and as you said, downward) to the ball and keep things short and compact. He’s getting long on his swing which causes the sweeping motion. And yes, it stems from the load. The whole thing is interconnected. And about the front arm, it consistently lengthens outward and pulls off the ball. Not just in the example demonstrated. And yes, his long swing certainly explains the CI’s.

  2. Ellsbury was a disaster of a contract the day it was signed and almost everybody knew that. Ellsbury was worth 153m for seven years, but Cano was worth only 175? That’s just dope smoking stupid. Cano at 240m was a better deal by far………..

    Ellsbury was never more than an even match with Gardner, a point made in every news story about his signing. He was never a leader in the dugout and he’s had a long reputation for getting injured. All details Yankees should have known before signing.

    None of us would turn down that kind of money if some fool offered it, so I don’t blame Ellsbury for being an ordinary CF with a superstar’s contract. But that doesn’t obliviate the need to get him off the roster.

    If correcting his swing improves his AB’s, let’s do it. But let’s keep the ‘for sale’ sign on his back the whole way and be ready to eat whatever salary he’s owed to get rid of him.

    3 years later, Gardner is better than Ellsbury and we have a gazilliion young outfielders who need playing time. Some of whom profile better than Ellsbury ever was.

  3. Still think you’re making too much of the front arm in the CI youtube video you posted (and there is another one there as well) both are with runners on base so he’d be trying to pull the ball so the straight arm explainable. There is a 2015 batting practice vid there as well; he doesn’t straight arm much except when the pitch is low. Some backwards loop with the hands though.
    Perhaps some Short Porch Syndrome which plagued players such as Granderson, Texi and McCann has a play in it as well. Be good to keep an eye on it, thanks for pointing it out.