Yanks outfielder has already set MLB single-season mark this year
By David Adler
Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't know why it's happening so often now, he says, because his swing has always been fundamentally the same. This season, though, he just keeps hitting the catcher's mitt with his bat.
Ellsbury has reached base via catcher's interference nine times this year, a Major League single-season record -- surpassing a mark set by Roberto Kelly, who had eight in 1992 with the Yankees -- and New York has only played 100 games.
"It's really the catchers," Ellsbury said. "I just have my swing, and it's catcher's interference, not batter's interference. So I guess you would have to ask them."
By now, opposing catchers are aware of Ellsbury's tendencies. The 32-year-old has drawn a high number of catcher's interference calls in 2016, but he also has 23, the second-most all-time, trailing only Pete Rose's 29.
Giants manager and former catcher Bruce Bochy, asked if he informed his backstops of Ellsbury's penchant for generating interferences, said simply, "They know about it."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who was also a catcher, said the same. Ellsbury's swing type -- letting pitches get deep, hands pulled back, before driving down toward the ball -- goes into their scouting reports. (Scioscia was once victimized by Rose; Bochy twice.)
For a catcher, there might be a viable counter: Back up and try not to stick your glove out too far.
"There's nothing else you can do," Bochy said.
Buster Posey, arguably the best pitch receiver in baseball, said he backs up when catching someone like Ellsbury, who actually accounted for one of Posey's two career catcher's interference calls in 2013.
"You just have to be aware," Posey said. "A lot of times, the low pitches, the ones you really go out to get, you just have to know, 'Hey, maybe I can't extend.'"
Easier said than implemented. Because catcher's interference is uncommon, catchers don't always remember to track hitters' proclivities in a game. Yankees catcher Brian McCann said Joe Girardi, another catcher-turned-manager, "Usually will whistle out to me to remind me."
Backup Austin Romine added, "It's weird. Like, it's not something you would pay attention to. So when it happens, it still catches everybody off-guard."
According to Scioscia, as a catcher, "It's the last thing on your mind -- usually, you have your distance. It's tough to adjust even if you know a guy."
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, on the receiving end of Ellsbury's record-setting ninth interference, knew about Ellsbury, and he thought he had positioned himself adequately. Ellsbury still ended up on first base.
"He's done it quite often over the past few years," Joseph said. "I was shocked he was able to still get a piece of me."
There's also a risk to scooting back -- increased difficulty catching pitches and holding them for the umpire, potentially resulting in lost strike calls.
"You still have to frame the baseball," McCann said. "The further you get back, the harder it is to present strikes."
"You're taking strikes out of the strike zone," Joseph said. "So it's a happy medium there."
To Bochy, the tradeoff is necessary.
"Well, it's either [move back] or risk having catcher's interference -- which one you want?" Bochy said. "So you back off. You shouldn't lose strikes, and it's not like you get back five feet."
After all, the rule puts the job on catchers, not Ellsbury, to adjust.
"Typically it's them reaching for the ball. I put my normal swing on the ball, make contact, and they've interfered with the bat," Ellsbury said. "I'm putting the ball in play, and more often than not, it could be a ball in the gap or something, so I think it's a hindrance. I would rather get the base hit before interference."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.