Dealing with the New Jacoby Ellsbury

'Jacoby Ellsbury' photo (c) 2011, Keith Allison - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/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

After taking an interest in sabermetrics and statistical analysis Troy began trying to use it to an advantage in fantasy baseball. He started the website RotoSavants.com and also spent time at HardballTimes.com and FantasyPros911.com. After a few years the interest in the Red Sox drew him to start a Red Sox-oriented site (Yawkey Way Academy) with fellow writer Lee Perrault. A short time later he joined Fire Brand. Writer from: December 14, 2009 – July 24, 2010, March 3, 2011 – May 10, 2012.

15 Responses to “Dealing with the New Jacoby Ellsbury” Subscribe

  1. Matt October 24, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

    He was the player the pink hats and less astute baseball fans thought he was going to be after 2007.

    His defense, hitting for average, walking, and striking out were all at levels we had seen from him before or could reasonably expect to see. However, his .230 ISO came out of nowhere. I've already told my friends it will take him two season to hit 32 again. I hope he proves me wrong.

    • TroyPatterson October 24, 2011 at 12:40 PM #

      It will be very interesting if he stays above 15 homers and his defense holds on at the rate he had this season. If it does he is still better than Crawford being a center fielder. If he had just been able to show this one year earlier there is no way Theo signs Crawford.

      • Matt October 24, 2011 at 1:04 PM #

        The Crawford deal is going to look even worse if Ellsbury continues to produce while making in three years less than what Crawford made in one.

  2. Steve October 24, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

    Jacoby may not hit 30+ HRs next year, but not due to regression. I think the reason for the increased powers numbers is a change in approach. He has always been criticized for a low OBP – too few walks, especially for a leadoff guy. As a leadoff guy, I think he wanted to walk more,so he look to take a lot of pitches (the Red Sox way). But pitchers, not wanting to walk a guy who could just steal 2nd base, and not seeing him as a power threat, work to throw strike 1 to get ahead. (And BA and OBP decline after the pitcher gets ahead 0-1.) So this year, a healthy Jacoby modified his approach, looking for a pitch he could drive, even if early in the count. Although pitchers may have learned that he could now hurt them with the longball, they still knew they couldn't afford to walk him. While his HR numbers could drop if pitchers are intent on pitching him more carefully, hsi walks and OBP should increase if he maintains disclipline and avoids chasing pitches out of the zone – which has always been his (and frankly, most hitters') greatest weaknesses with two strikes.

    • Charlie Saponara October 24, 2011 at 3:31 PM #

      The stats back you up Steve. Ellsbury got extra agressive when up in the count. In his last healthy season, 2009, Ells swung on a 2-0 count about 18% of the time. This season, he swung on an 2-0 count about 37% of the time. He looked at a called strike about 30 percent of the time, which was his lowest looking strike rate since becoming a regular in 2008.

    • TroyPatterson October 24, 2011 at 3:47 PM #

      While I agree there is some change in how pitchers approached him, I don't think there is any way that defines how he added more than 20 home runs to his power. If he had shown some power in the minors I might buy that, but he has never hit 10 home runs at any level.

      • Dale Sams October 24, 2011 at 7:50 PM #

        I can only say that when I saw him in KC, he looks very buff. Not surprising that he could hit some knocks.

        • Gerry October 24, 2011 at 9:58 PM #

          From every report since his early days Ells has been considered unusually strong for his size. I have seen what commentators have regularly commented upon, that his batting practices produce monster shots that hadn't yet translated to the game. This year, with a mature,'filled out form and extreme rehab/offseason workout PLUS a huge chip on his shoulder (no doubt enhanced by Boras) he simply showed us what he promised in 2007. IMO we saw the real Ells who will be +/- his 2011 production and for two years we have a bargain. In 2014 we may pay a premium to keep him, but hopefully Ben works out something before then. With cost controlled Lava, Kalish, Reddick, Iglesias, Middlebrook, Linares, Doubront, Weiland, Bowden, Renaudo, etc coming up, Ells won't break the bank and will be worth keeping IMO.

          • TroyPatterson October 25, 2011 at 11:16 AM #

            Are we discussing the same Scott Boras? There is very little to no chance Ellsbury signs for anything. Boras will push him to go to free agency and in free agency if you are correct that he is anywhere near 2011 levels we are talking about a $20-25 million a year player at that point.

            Also hitting moon shots in batting practice has little value. There are plenty of players who hit a 60 mph meatball into the seats, but it takes a whole extra level to hit like that off real pitching.

  3. Don October 24, 2011 at 10:05 PM #

    Well-written, thought-provoking piece, Troy! … I wasn't familiar with the "Hit Tracker" data, so thanks for the link to their site!

    Once the Sox signed Crawford last winter, I assumed they might trade Ellsbury shortly after. The notion of trading him NOW is intriguing for the reasons you state. That would be wild, given that he very well may win the AL MVP award in a few weeks. (Dare I say, it would be Belichick-ian!) Wonder if any player in MLB history has ever been traded right after winning an MVP award? The time might be right to do so with Ells.

  4. Dale Sams October 24, 2011 at 10:21 PM #

    Trading him now would be insane. You would never get that value back. Unless they were out of it 2013 and had no intention of trying to resign him would be the only time to try and trade him.

    I believe ARod was traded after winning the MVP.

    • Don October 24, 2011 at 10:33 PM #

      You're right, Dale … I was thinking the Yankees signed A-Rod as a free-agent, but Texas traded him and his bloated contract after the 2003 season. i forgot all about the Manny for A-Rod trade that same winter!

      I'm not saying the Red Sox SHOULD trade Ellsbury … but if they can't sign him to a long-term deal soon, will they get more value by 1) trading him now after his monster season … or, 2) getting two "sandwich" picks in 2014 when he signs elsewhere as a free agent? Intriguing dilemma.

    • Billy Beaver October 25, 2011 at 11:54 AM #

      Just get rid of him any way you can. Trade him for a a bucket of gum if you had to. You heard those reports after the season. The guy was a clubhouse cancer. Always keeping to himself. Not acting rowdy. Uh, being quiet. Us fans deserve better than a clubhouse full of quietness! That's the exact kind of thing that brought down the Roman empire.

      • darryljohnston October 25, 2011 at 4:41 PM #

        Hahaha

  5. Gerry October 25, 2011 at 4:01 AM #

    Ellsbury in the lineup in 2012 increases the odds of another WS now. That is worth much more than prospects at this point, while the Sox have a balance of elite offense, solid defense, on base speed. Assuming the pitching is fixed, which will be BenC's top job, trading Ells is self defeating. Personally I can't wait to see a second season of Ells,
    CC, PD hitting in that order with all those offensive tools. Awesome.