Can Jacoby Ellsbury replicate the success he had last year for the Red Sox?

Ellsbury was a more patient hitter in 2011

Jacoby Ellsbury was a revelation last season for the Red Sox.  He was coming off of a dismal 2010 in which he only saw 78 at-bats.  People saw wasted potential and a lack of toughness when they looked at Ellsbury.  Through parts of 4 seasons Ellsbury had only hit 20 home runs, 60 doubles, had 102 walks and 130 RBI.  Ellsbury was supposed to be the Red Sox stud lead-off hitter but he went into the 2011 season having to earn that spot back after a lost year.  What Ellsbury did was incredible.  For the 2011 season he hit 32 home runs, 46 doubles, had 52 walks and 105 RBI.  Compare that to his totals above which spanned parts of 4 seasons and you see that the leap in production was humongous for Ellsbury last year.  The question now is – can he keep it up?

The most obvious career comparison would be with the standard bearer of lead-off hitters, Rickey Henderson.  Rickey’s power numbers took a spike at age 25 in 1984 when he hit 16 home runs for the A’s.  Henderson followed in his 26, 27, and 28 years with home run totals of 24, 28, and 17 respectively.  He then experienced a down-tick in offensive production in 1988 and 1989 with the Yankees but had a resurgence at ages 31-34 with home run totals of 18, 15, 21, and 17 after he was traded back to Oakland.  Still he never had as many as Ellsbury’s 32 home runs last year and his RBI totals never went above 75.  The other common comparable is Johnny Damon but Damon didn’t get to 20 home runs until he was 30 years old in 2004 with the Red Sox.  His numbers however were very consistent from ages 23 right on through to age 35 when he finished his contract with the Yankees.  The fact of the matter is that you can’t really find a great comparison to what Ellsbury did last year.  Maybe Brady Anderson, who went from 2 home runs, 27 RBI, and a .230 average at age 27 to 21 home runs, 80 RBI, and a .271 average at age 28.  Ellsbury is sort of in a league of his own here, which makes it tough to quantify future production.

Ellsbury perfected his home run trot with 32 dingers in '11

One thing to remember is that he was hurt in his age 26 year and only played in 18 games.  That was a lost season of production.  Who knows, he may have put up a 20 home run, 75 RBI, 50 walk campaign that would have made his 2011 increase in production less staggering.  We’ll never know what his true production value was that year so we need to go by what we’ve seen.  I think many pitchers were caught off guard by the increased power in Ellsbury last year so expect them to pitch him more carefully next year.  Also remember that Manny Ramirez was traded by the Red Sox during the 2009 season and they didn’t have that big presence between Pedroia and Ortiz until last year when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez.  Match that with the maturation of Ellsbury as a hitter and he probably was able to take advantage of hitting before a top hitter in the 3 hole moreso now than he did when Ramirez hit behind him when he was younger.  Lastly don’t discount the possibility that Ellsbury just simply started to buy into the Red Sox hitting program implemented by Dave Magadan.  Be a patient hitter, wait for your pitch, don’t try to do too much.  When you possess the speed of an Ellsbury you sometimes think too much about using that as an asset when you are at the plate (bunting, hitting to contact and letting your speed do the rest, etc.) but Ellsbury seemed to finally have learned that if you apply patience you can use your speed as a factor just the same.  Work the count and draw a walk.  A walk could easily turn into a double if you have the speed of Ellsbury.  Then when pitchers fear walking you they start to leave pitches over the plate.  A disciplined hitter will take advantage of those mistakes.  Ellsbury started to do that and that made for a better offensive player.

So what’s next for Ellsbury?  I’d love to tell you that he’s going to hit 32 more home runs next year and drive in 100 more runs but obviously it won’t be that easy.  With the asset of his speed it would be easy for him to revert back to the old kind of hitter he was if he has any struggles (see Carl Crawford in 2011).  Ultimately however I think while his power numbers will come down he will still be a supremely productive offensive player.  I’d imagine that he will hover around .300, draw a good 50+ more walks and stay in the 20 home run, 75 RBI range that Johnny Damon would frequent so often in the prime of his career.  Ellsbury will be 28 in 2012 and a hitters prime is generally ages 29-31 so I’d expect him to be consistent for the next five years or so.  Of course he could get injured again and that would put a damper on his production, let’s hope that does not happen.  Let’s not forget that contract either.  After his productive 2011 season he is heading for a Carl Crawford-like contract if he keeps up his production.  Upwards of 200 million possible dollars will motivate anyone.  I’d say there are plenty of reasons that Ellsbury will be a productive player for the Red Sox for the next few seasons.  The next question will become – Can they keep him?

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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