As one of Jacoby Ellsbury’s biggest critics entering 2011 I’ll admit he proved me wrong, but anyone would be hard pressed to find evidence this type of year was coming from him. The problem now is his value will probably never be higher, but at the same time can we expect anything like that in the future?
When dealing with baseball you need to always regress to the mean. A breakout year is almost always followed by a year back to career norms, but what are those norms for Ellsbury. Offensively before 2011 Ellsbury was more of a poor leadoff hitter with not much discipline and a low OBP. That probably won’t change much and his .374 OBP this year is largely based on a .336 BABIP as he still walked and struck out near career levels.
I always thought Ellsbury would make a solid number nine hitter since his OBP left much to be wanted from leadoff, but with the sudden power surge he should be a candidate for a heart of the order. If the Red Sox had moved him to the number five spot he probably tops 130 RBI this season. Of course after never topping 10 home runs before how can we expect him to be going forward?
As much as I want to yell regression, there is solid evidence that 2011 was real in at least one measurement. Using Hit Tracker data we can see out of 32 home runs, only 5 home runs from Ellsbury were listed as Lucky or Just Enough. That is around 15 percent which is much less than the 27 percent that the average player totals. That suggests he could hit more home runs in 2012! I wouldn’t go suggesting that, but it suggests he should at least be a 20 home run hitter who could top 30 again.
The last part of Ellsbury’s game leaves much debate as well. In three full seasons of data his defense has been debated widely and depending on the metric. With two amazing defensive seasons and one really bad on in 2009 he has been labeled as average or above average. His center field defense has shown to be questionable with bad reads, but his speed does make up for it.
There has also been some discussion on positioning that may cause his numbers to fluctuate. Before 2011 Ellsbury had to cover part of left field for Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez before him. If he is shading to left field to cover for them he could be missing hits to right-center and hurting his UZR. Even if J.D. Drew makes the play it reflects poorly on Ellsbury. With Carl Crawford in left field I would wiegh his 2011 a bit higher and with a UZR of 15.6.
Heading into 2012 Ellsbury has placed himself as one of the key contributors to the offense and defense of the Boston Red Sox, but with two years left in arbitration and Scott Boras as an agent it’s difficult to see him being around for the 2014 season. If the Red Sox do try to sign him they are not going to get a team friendly deal now. He is going to surely get a solid raise in 2012 to around $6-7 million and with another solid campaign around $9-11 million in 2013.
The Red Sox would have to pay at least $16-18 million to sign him for those seasons and based on Boras optimistic projections he would probably be looking for elite money in his first free agent year of 2014. How could Boras ask for even anything less than Crawford got per season when Ellsbury did the one thing Crawford never did, top 20 home runs.
So if Ellsbury has only two years left, the other option is to trade him. Being only one season removed from a huge injury year, trade partners may be tough to find for the cost of a player who just totaled a top 500 season of all time using rWAR. It would be tough to get a fair value back since he should get a top player or elite prospect or two in return.
Totaling this all up the best path seems to be taking the year to year approach with Ellsbury and likely seeing him walk in 2014. Depending on the new bargaining agreement they may not get the draft pick return then, but they may not have a choice. This might be the largest cost of the Crawford signing as the Red Sox will not be able to keep Ellsbury if he continues to play to this elite level.
I consider myself a convert and hoping he can keep this up. Any regression he sees should be matched by a positive progression of Crawford’s skills. The only down side is now that he has proven us that he can get better he might be working his way out of Boston.
Categories: Jacoby Ellsbury