Eliminating catcher's interferences could be key for Ellsbury

Hitting coach Cockrell believes moving outfielder's contact out a few inches would improve production

Eliminating catcher's interferences could be key for Ellsbury

NEW YORK -- Jacoby Ellsbury set a Major League record for catcher's interferences in a single season last year. Though it seemed to be an unorthodox way to get on base, Yankees hitting coach Alan Cockrell believes that eliminating those could be key to unlocking better performance from the veteran outfielder.

Ellsbury's swing clipped a catcher's glove 12 times in 2016, surpassing Roberto Kelly's eight in 1992 for the most in a single season. While opponents took note of Ellsbury's tendencies, warning their backstops to set up slightly deeper, Cockrell sees it as a warning sign of a larger issue.

"For me, the biggest thing with Jacoby is moving his contact out front a little bit more," Cockrell said. "I've never seen a guy hit the catcher's mitt like he did. I think when Ells' contact point was maybe three, four more inches more out front from where it is right now, he can stay on balls. We're not looking for power production, but he can be a very, very productive hitter."

In his third season with New York, Ellsbury batted .263 (145-for-551) with nine homers, 56 RBIs and 20 steals in 148 games. Thus far, the Yanks have not seen the production that Ellsbury displayed with the Red Sox during a career year in 2011, when he batted .321 with 32 homers and 105 RBIs.

"We looked at all the video from his really big year in Boston, and his contact point was probably three or four inches more," Cockrell said. "So we tailored his cage routine and his maintenance work to where we're moving contact -- not a lot, not a foot and a half, but just three to four inches more in front of his body."

Catcher's interferences were part of Ellsbury's game in Boston as well -- he has 26 since 2007, the most by any Major Leaguer since Pete Rose (29) -- but Cockrell has wondered if Ellsbury wandered toward an unhealthy extreme.

"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 said. "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.

"… It's not new. We talked about it at times last year. But it's one of those midseason things that feels awkward, and it's tough to go out and play every night and think about something like that. This is something that we'll talk about in Spring Training."

Exactly where Ellsbury will be hitting in the order is another matter up for discussion. General manager Brian Cashman said that manager Joe Girardi has suggested breaking up Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup, which is expected to be a topic of conversation again this spring.

"It'll be a decision for Joe and the staff," Cashman said. "It was just something that he raised and the staff raised to us in the second half. It's just a nugget I volunteered as a possibility -- doesn't mean it's going to happen. That'll be in Joe's court with Alan Cockrell and the rest of the staff, however they see it."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.