In 2009, Jacoby Ellsbury hit .301/.355/.415 with 70 stolen bases in 82 attempts. He wasn’t a superstar, but it was good for a .363 wOBA and 127 wRC+. With last year’s total wash of a season fresh in Red Sox fans’ minds, it’s easy to forget that Ellsbury was actually a very good player just two seasons ago. He’s one of the “what if” players on the Red Sox, in a supporting role given the club’s star power, but also with star potential himself. By “what if” I mean the following. Let me know if you have this internal monologue from time to time.
“Ok so the Red Sox with conservative projections seem to be a 92-96 win team. But Josh Beckett could totally regain his form. So could John Lackey. And the bullpen’s all revamped. And Crawford and Gonzalez! Youk and Pedroia are healthy! And holy shit, what if Jacoby Ellsbury ever had a breakout superstar season?”
You can’t go too far down this road, or next thing you know you’re taking to a major media outlet’s website saying things like the 2011 Red Sox are going to be better than the 1927 Yankees. It’s best in these situations to take a step back and relax a little bit. But what about Ellsbury?
Yeah yeah, it’s just Spring Training but he’s hitting .440/.462/.680 so far and he’s long been compared to someone like Johnny Damon, a player who could easily develop power as time went on. As Gordon Edes noted in his Ellsbury entry (incorporating ISO, btw) yesterday, Crawford was that way too. Addressing Ellsbury’s chances of notching double-digit home runs, Edes wrote:
And Ellsbury’s new teammate, Carl Crawford, was in his second full season when he hit 11, and has followed that with double-figure home runs in five of the next six seasons, including a career-high 19 in 2010.
Also, on Twitter, @RedSoxStats noted the following:
A hitter with a positive difference between his spring training SLG and his lifetime SLG of .200+ correlates to a better than normal season.
Maybe there’s reason to place a little stock in his scorching Spring after all.
Of course PECOTA sees things a bit differently for Ellsbury, projecting him at just .281/.337/.381. It’s understandable. Ellsbury underwhelmed in his first full season in 2008 and missed just about all of 2010. There’s not much for a projection system could go off of when it comes to forecasting an Ellsbury breakout. Nonetheless there were some encouraging signs of improvement in Ellsbury’s approach from 2008 to 2009 that, should they continue to improve, could portend increased productivity. His walk percentage edged up to 7.1% from 6.7%. By the same token, his strikeout percentage fell off from 14.4% to 11.9%. More walks and more contact mean more opportunities for Ellsbury to use his wheels.
There are also the soft elements to the Ellsbury story. His commitment level came into question last year, even by one of his own teammates. He’s entering his second arbitration-eligible season. He’ll make $2.4 million this season, but the real riches await if Ellsbury can become the player his potential suggests he could be. Both as a proud competitor and as an enterprising youngster looking to set up his earning potential as best he can, Ellsbury has everything to play for in 2011.
Like Jed Lowrie or Mike Cameron or any other number of players on the Red Sox, it’s hard to know what to expect from Ellsbury. He’s got a lot to play for, though, and he gets to try and perform outside of the media spotlight for the first time since he came up in 2007 as a heralded prospect. His start this Spring might not mean much, but it doesn’t hurt either. We’ll temper our enthusiasm for now, knowing in the back of our minds what an Ellsbury breakout could mean for this club in 2011.
Photo courtesy of Boston.com