The 2011 Version of Jacoby Ellsbury

Red Sox Spring Trainingphoto © 2011 WEBN-TV | more info (via: Wylio)
Did you know that, despite sitting atop the Red Sox offensive juggernaut, Jacoby Ellsbury has yet to score 100 runs in a single-season?

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.

Categories: Adrian Beltre Adrian Gonzalez Jacoby Ellsbury

9 Responses to “The 2011 Version of Jacoby Ellsbury” Subscribe

  1. Cory July 4, 2011 at 12:50 AM #

    Great article on my favorite Sox player. Though I must say, A-Gon has 3 triples not one as noted above. Again great article guys.

    • darryljohnston July 4, 2011 at 3:12 PM #

      Thanks, Cory. And you are right. I will update the Gonzo stat

  2. Gerry July 4, 2011 at 4:04 AM #

    The media and blogosphere are so often wrong, often cruelly so, though they should know better and communicate with concern for the players they discuss. Pedroia and Youk's early days come to mind, as do Scutaro, Lowrie, the stick a fork in Papi crowd, Papelbon, Beckett, Lackey, Wake, Buchholz, Reddick … You get the idea. Somehow we've gotten the idea that it's OK to (often anonymously) take gratuitous shots at some of the best ballplayers in the world because they don't meet MY standards this week. But no one has been more vilified than Ells, be they RBI or UZR worshippers. Thank you for writing a favorable piece about this exciting, dynamic force on what many claim is a boring Team. Hah! Selected to the All Star team by his peers. Hah! Playing hurt. Hah! UZR and WAR are going thru changes to improve accuracy before undermining promising careers. Hah! AGon gives ample credit to Ells for his RBI's. Hah! Folks are surprised that this athletic kid is maturing into a powerful hitter. I just hope that Boras let's him sign a favorable contract with the Sox, but I imagine he's not inclined to do so after the way he was disrespected by the Beantown "cognoscenti". If I sound sarcastic and angry, I am, and have long been disappointed at the smarter than thou vitriol aimed his way. Aspiring young players are often treated like game pieces by so called experts and fans. IMO it's irresponsible and juvenile, and it runs from Mazz and Felger to websites and bloggers. End of rant. Congrats Jacoby.

    • darryljohnston July 4, 2011 at 3:16 PM #

      Gresh is the guy I always think of who was proudly out front on the war on Ellsbury. Completely unnecessary, IMO.

    • ChipBuck July 4, 2011 at 3:20 PM #

      I'm not judging your opinions either way Gerry, but it sounds like you think you're smarter than the "holier than thou" crowd you seem to despise. We apologize that we're not impressed with Ellsbury's poor route running and less than favorable on base percentage. The truth is that if he wasn't playing for the Red Sox, we'd all put him on par with Michael Bourn and Juan Pierre. Honestly, considering true skill sets, they're comparable players. It's RSN that feels the need to pimp up Ellsbury to the point where he's a near superstar, despite the fact that he's nowhere near truly being that type of player.

      Yes, Ellsbury is having a fantastic year. Yes, you'd be hard pressed to find a Red Sox fan that isn't thrilled with these developments. Still, that doesn't make your opinion correct. It also doesn't make it wrong. All it does is make it your opinion.

  3. Dave July 4, 2011 at 4:10 AM #

    Great article. I really enjoyed all the statistics you used to back up your analysis. I wonder where the ceiling is for Ellsbury's potential and also if he can keep up these power numbers.

    • darryljohnston July 4, 2011 at 3:19 PM #

      Well, as I type this, Jacoby just lit up his first triple of the year. I would guess the extra-base power is a legitmate growth in skill and strength, but the home run-to-flyball ratio will come down a bit, making 15 HRs a reasonable expectation as a high. That, combined with the 38 doubles, 5 triples, 55 SBs and 105 runs. :)

  4. ChipBuck July 4, 2011 at 3:16 PM #

    There goes Jacoby Ellsbury's first triple of the season…

    • darryljohnston July 5, 2011 at 9:55 AM #

      Like clock work!