2012 Red Sox Player Preview: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury was the team's M.V.P. in his breakout 2011 campaign

Red Sox fans had been waiting for Jacoby Ellsbury to realize his full potential since he burst onto the scene in late 2007.  Some were beginning to think that he would never reach that potential especially after his injury-marred 2010 season.  Ellsbury went a long way in quieting those naysayers when he had a breakout 2011 season.  He was 2nd in the American League M.V.P. voting and led the Sox in many offensive categories.  Ellsbury finally had the year we’ve all been waiting for last season but the question now is can he maintain it?  That’s what we’ll find out in 2012.

Here’s a look at Ellsbury’s 2011 season (career highs in parentheses):

Games: 158 (158, 2011)
Average: .321 (.315, 2011)
On-Base Percentage: .376 (.376, 2011)
Slugging Percentage: .552 (.552, 2011)
On Base plus Slugging (OPS): .928 (.928, 2011)
Home Runs: 32 (32, 2011)
Runs Batted In: 105 (105, 2011)
Runs: 119 (119, 2011)
Doubles: 46 (46, 2011)
Walks: 52 (52, 2011)

2012 Season Outlook:

The numbers above tell the whole story.  Ellsbury had a career season, by far, last year.  Most of the numbers didn’t even come close.  Obviously he is not a slam dunk to recreate his breakout year but it’s tough to see him going back to the guy he was back in 2008-2009.  A lot of times a guys hitting develops in large part because their body and mind develop as they age.  Just because he wasn’t on the field much in 2010 doesn’t mean that he didn’t mature as a player and a hitter.  He might have simply skipped the step in between his ’08-’09 production to his 2011 production because he wasn’t healthy.  One thing that seems for sure though is that many of the doubts expressed by pundits and even teammates during the 2010 season have been erased by his breakout 2011.  Now it’s all about maintaining.

Ellsbury broke out with the glove as well as with the bat last year

Ellsbury not only had a career year at the plate but a career year in the field as well.  He won his first Gold Glove last season and looked more comfortable playing the ball in center field than he had in previous years.  He seemed to have issues playing the ball in previous years but he looked like a major leaguer out there last season.  He definitely looked more comfortable out in the field and that may have been simply because he was healthy.  Remember he was moved to left field to make way for Mike Cameron before the 2010 season.  He also was 4th in the league in steals last year with 39.  It was a far cry from his 70 steal campaign in ’09 but when your power numbers go up it’s inevitable that you’ll see a decline in your stolen bases.

Motivation could have played a big factor in his breakout season last year.  He spent much of the off season under the microscope after 2010.  It’s got to be tough having people question your toughness or ability.  Even teammate Kevin Youkilis criticized him for not rehabbing with the team.  Even if it was a factor I wouldn’t expect Ellsbury to take the foot off of the pedal anytime soon.  He is two years away from a possible free agent pay day so there’s is plenty of motivation for Ellsbury to continue to produce at or near his 2011 level.

For Ellsbury 2012 will be all about maintaining his '11 success

The question for Bobby Valentine will be do you move Ellsbury in the lineup from lead off to a spot that is more traditionally used for a power hitter?  You probably want to see him do it again before marrying him to a power hitting spot but if the Red Sox have anything in abundance it’s top of the lineup hitters.  You already have established guys like Dustin Pedroia and Carl Crawford and Bobby Valentine has given future shortstop Jose Iglesias a pretty pronounced audition at the lead off spot so far this spring.  I see him at the very least staying in the top 3 in the lineup this season but Valentine might shift the lineup based on righty/lefty match-up during the season anyway.

Chances are that Ellsbury will not replicate his breakout season of 2011.  He’ll likely be at or near some of his ’11 numbers but there will sure to be a drop-off in at least several offensive categories.  Ellsbury figures to be an important part of the top of this year’s Red Sox lineup and with free agency now on the horizon expect Ellsbury to keep the intensity up and keep producing numbers that will earn him a rather large contract offer.  It also looks as if Ellsbury is ready to be a bigger presence in the clubhouse after his healthy season.  Regardless of whether or not he replicates his 2011 season the future certainly looks bright for Ellsbury.  All those jersey sales are finally paying off.

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

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