This year, that is going to change. 2011 might be Ellsbury’s best year to date.
Some folks are already saying that Ellsbury is the best all-around outfielder in the American League. His .300 BA and 22 doubles are the best among centerfielders in the AL and trail only Hunter Pence, Matt Kemp and Chris Young – all names you expect to be generating the extra-base power. What has gotten into him?
Ellsbury’s 3.5 WAR in 2011 also ranks him first among AL center fielders, making him a deserved starter for the All-Star team this year. We’ll find out today if he makes the team as the starting CF. Ellsbury has been running neck-and-neck with Josh Hamilton for the last spot, as voted on by fans. (Hamilton has no business being in the discussion this year but it’s a popularity contest and he’s a story fans like to rally around)
2011 has been a giant success compared to 2010 when Ellsbury took serious heat from Red Sox fans, his teammates and the media for being what many perceived as ‘soft’.
Over the last three years, Ellsbury has been on the disabled list 158 days and he struggled to recover from rib injuries sustained in a train-wreck collision with then-Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Kevin Youkilis was the most outspoken as Ellsbury struggled to stay on the field.
Publicly, Ellsbury’s reputation began to slip as Red Sox Nation took to the airwaves and internet to voice their criticism last year. Even the organization and team doctors passively voiced their displeasure with him, and his stature fell significantly from uber-prospect to wimpy outfielder favored by pink hat fans and girls.
But thankfully, all of that is forgotten now. This season, Ellsbury has provided a burst of power previously-unseen from the left-handed speedster. His nine home runs already tie a career-high and we haven’t even seen the 4th of July yet. Are there more fireworks coming from the leadoff hitter? Why the sudden surge of power?
Maybe Ellsbury really is turning into the Johnny Damon-mold that he was so favorably compared to for years. A faster Johnny Damon is what he was called. Some scrunched their eyebrows at that comparison because Ellsbury didn’t seem like a guy who could pop 15 home runs in a year. He hit way to many groundballs.
Ellsbury has done a better job in 2011 with respect to his groundball to flyball ratio. What Ellsbury has successfully managed to do in 2011 is hit more line drives. Typically, Ellsbury hit 50% groundballs which lend themselves to base hits for speedy contact hitters, but not much in the way of extra-base hits. This year, Ellsbury is driving the ball with a touch more authority and on a line, which has led to the surge in doubles.
Despite the slight uptick in homeruns, Ellsbury’s swing and strength does not generate enough power to consistently hit home runs. Seeing #2 drive the ball on a line is exactly what you would hope for from a player of his profile. Flyballs will do him no good.
How about the nine homeruns though? That has to be worth something and he’s on pace for 16 total – a career high. While Ellsbury is not hitting any more flyballs than in year’s past, more of them are leaving the yard. Previously, you could count on Ellsbury to carry a HR/fb rate of about 5-7%. In other words about 5% of the balls he hit in the air went for home runs. This year that HR/fb is at 11% lending itself to a potential 15-HR season.
And while it’s possible that Ellsbury’s home run-to-flyball ratio dips below the double-digit mark, it’s also well within the realm of expectation that he has indeed gained a little more strength and can hit homeruns with greater frequency than year’s past. HitTracker Online scores all nine of Ellsbury’s homeruns as legit. 7 are rated as having ‘plenty’ enough to get out anywhere and two of the homeruns are listed as ‘no doubters’, meaning the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.
And despite the 31 extra-base hits this year, Ellsbury has zero triples on the season. For a guy who can very easily amass double-digit triples, it’s odd to see him with none. Triples are certainly a matter of circumstance, but Ellsbury has always found a way to collect them. Adrian Gonzalez (who has one triple of his own) teased Ellsbury about the lack of triples and joked that he was faster than Ellsbury.
“”If you hit it there, you have to get a triple,” Ellsbury responded. “I’d be giving him grief if he didn’t get a triple out of that one.”
Ellsbury is definitely fast from a raw-speed perspective and his stolen base opportunities prop up his counting stats. But from a speed score perspective, Ellsbury’s speed scores are down in 2011. His EYE is decent, but it’s not great because of the wimpy walk rate (7%). He makes very good contact at 85% and usually sits near 90% most seasons, but the lack of a good walk-rate puts a soft cap on his stolen base totals.
Talking about a player who stole 70 bases in 2009 and using the term ‘cap’ might sound odd, but Ellsbury has all the makings and plays in an environment to steal 75+ every year, if he could get the walk rate up. Terry Francona gives Ellsbury the green light nearly 45% of the time, which is an elite figure. Combine that SBO (stolen base opportunity) with a lightning-quick player who possesses a healthy EYE (BB/K) and you have a mini-Rickey Henderson.
This year Ellsbury is hanging in against left-handed pitching and flashing decent leather in centerfield. After such a disastrous 2010, it would be great to see him recapture the notoriety and respect he garnered following his 2009 campaign.
2011 has the makings of a career year for Ellsbury…if he can stay on the field.