When Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury went down with a partially separated shoulder, it put another damper on an already underwhelming, frustrating start to the 2012 season. Shortstop Mike Aviles was moved from the ninth slot in the batting order to leadoff.
And boy, has he ever delivered.
Since assuming the leadoff role on April 14, his batting average has skyrocketed .227 to .333 (tied for 11th in the American League), his on-base percentage from .261 to .365 (27th), and his slugging from .273 to .567 (16th).
To put it another way, his lines before Ellsbury’s injury and after are like two different players:
Before (six games): .227 AVG, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .261 OBP, .273 SLG, 0 SB
After (nine games): .395 AVG, 3 HR, 7 RBI, .425 OBP, .737 SLG, 3 SB
In Tuesday’s 11-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, Aviles had another huge game, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, a home run, two runs batted in, and three runs scored. Perhaps Aviles’s contributions have gotten lost in the shuffle because of David Ortiz‘s hot start, the situation with Daniel Bard‘s role, Kevin Youkilis‘s struggles, or the fact that the Red Sox have won two games in a row (shocker!). But they are not to be underestimated. Now that the Red Sox know they have another dimension in the offense at the ninth and leadoff slots in the order, it takes some pressure off the middle third to pick up Ellsbury’s slack.
If he keeps this up, manager Bobby Valentine could have a dilemma as to where Aviles bats upon Ellsbury’s return. Some shuffling could be in order involving Aviles, Ellsbury, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. (Perhaps the best top third of the batting order in baseball?) But it’s a good problem to have if the Red Sox bats keep clicking and get some more wins strung together.
Not bad for a guy who was brought in as a super-utility player at last year’s trading deadline.