Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox is one of the those players that I term “tipping point” guys. If he “tips” in the right direction you might get a first round talent at a third round cost. If he “tips” in the wrong direction you might end up spending a third round selection on a guy who will be lucky to give you 10th round value in 2013. What are my expectations with Ellsbury? Let’s delve into the player before I render my final thoughts (if you are unaware, I rostered Ellsbury for a very reasonable $24 in the recently conducted AL LABR Draft).
In 2008 Ellsbury hit .280, stole 50 bags and scored 98 runs.
In 2009 Ellsbury hit .301, stole 70 bags and scored 94 runs.
In 2010 he was injured and played just 18 games.
In 2011 he hit .321, stole 39 bases and scored 119 times.
In 2012 he was injured and played just 74 games.
Those are the facts. Here are some more.
In 2008-09 Ellsbury averaged 60 steals a season.
In 2010 and 2012 he was an injured plagued disaster.
In 2011 he was a superstar who also hit 32 homers and drove in 105 runs.
Which player is Ellsbury? Is he the guy who averaged 60 steals in 2008-09 or the one that has stolen 60 bases the past three seasons? Is he the guy who hit 32 homers in 2011 or the guy who has hit 24 homers over the other five seasons of his career? See what I mean by “tipping point?”
I do not believe that Ellsbury will return to the 50 steal level in 2013. It’s possible, he’s obviously been there before, but he’s just not run that much the past three years or, obviously, been able to stay healthy long enough to really let her rip. Running excessively on the base paths puts a tremendous strain on the body. I’m sure the Red Sox won’t tell him to stop running – there’s no red light in his future – but they need him on the field so doesn’t it make sense that they might pull back on the reigns a bit with Ellsbury to make sure he’s able to stay on the field? I’d be thinking 40 steals not 50 or 60.
Is Ellsbury a 32 homer man? There’s no way in heck he is. So many reasons why.
(1) No one ever thought he would develop into a 30 homer bat.
(2) The 32 homers he hit in 660 at-bats equate to one homer every 20.5 at-bats. In the other 1,575 at-bats he’s racked up he’s gone deep 24 times which equates to one homer every 65.6 at-bats. Put another way, Ellsbury has one season with more than nine homers. That’s right, he has one double-digit homer season in his career.
(3) For his career Ellsbury owns a 32 percent fly ball rate. In 2011, his huge homer season, that number was 35 percent, a very modest increase that only allowed him to reach the league average level. The reason that his homer total jumped so dramatically can be directly seen in his HR/F ratio. For his career Ellsbury has an 8.8 percent mark. In 2011 he posted a 16.7 percent mark. If we add together his rate from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 we’d end up with 16.3 percent (think about that for a moment). If you think he’s a 30 homer bat you’re wrong. I’d even go further and say that I’d be surprised if he hit more than 20 homers in a healthy full season moving forward.
Ellsbury should be a solid batting average source. In his only two seasons of 600 at-bats he’s hit .301 and .321, and for his career he owns a .297 batting average. Given his speed and hitting style, his 1.51 career GB/FB ratio suggests that he hits the ball on the line or the ground more often than not, it’s fair to posit with health that his average will be strong in 2013.
So where does all of that leave us?
We’ve seen his steals totals regress.
It’s easy to see that his one huge homer season looks very flukish.
He’s failed to play half of the games in two of the last three seasons.
And you want to make him a second or third round selection this year?
I know the allure of Ellsbury is acute. He plays for the Red Sox and was a top-10 performer in 2011 (here’s the full 5×5 fantasy line put together: .321-32-105-119-39). Do you know how many seasons in the 21st century can match his ’11 effort? The answer is none. No one else has done that. In fact, no other player in the history of baseball can match all five of those numbers in one season. Besides being floored by that admission, the natural point of outgrowth is this – Ellsbury is never going to do it again.
Personally, I’m never going to draft Ellsbury in 2013 in a snake draft, as he will simply cost too much (as I noted above though, if the price falls in an auction draft, I would be interested). I’m not saying he will be a failure, and I’m not saying he will be a wasted pick if you do call out his name on draft day. My point is merely that I see a guy who has already had his career best effort. I see a guy who will never hit 32 homers again. I see a guy who will never steal 70 bases again. I see a guy who has failed to play 75 games in two of three years. Ellsbury might be a fantasy star in 2013 but if he is it won’t be on my fantasy team.
* Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers