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Jacoby Ellsbury's Mediocre Year

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On September 1, 2007, a date which will live in infamy, the hearts of Red Sox fans were suddenly and deliberately seized by the speedy young center-fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury.

Jacoby09_medium

via i32.photobucket.com

From Provincetown on the Atlantic, to Portland in the Pacific, an Iron Taco had fallen across all of Red Sox Nation. Expectations for Ellsbury were sky-high, and why not? He'd only hit .353 / .394 / .509 and stole 9 bases in his first 127 plate appearances. In the World Series, he batted .438 / .500 / .688. He even won the nation Free Tacos after a steal in the ALCS.

In the off-season, there was tremendous hype surrounding Ells. Reports of the Johan Santana negotiations had the Twins asking for Ellsbury, and the Sox front office rebuffing them. It appeared the Sox were more willing to part with Jon Lester, a potential left-handed ace, than their young outfielder. Meanwhile, everyone from the pinkest of casual fans to the VORPest of bloggers was anointing Jacoby the starting CF for the 2008 Red Sox.

At the time, I was very excited about Ellsbury's performance in the big leagues. Jacoby's success was astounding - he was hitting nearly everything thrown remotely in his direction. But one thing troubled me - he wasn't showing good plate discipline, and as the season started to wear on he seemed to swing more at pitches way out of the strike zone. Ellsbury's minor league stats attested to solid plate discipline - he had a career .389 OBP in the minors. Given his newfound aggressiveness, I worried that after Ellsbury cooled down he would have trouble making any contact at all.

2008 started out very well for Jacoby.
March/April: .280 / .396 / .440, 13 BB, 8 SB (0 CS)
May: .281 / .375 / .396, 14 BB, 18 SB (2 CS)

High OBP, plenty of walks, and incredible steal totals characterized his first two months. Ells' performance was awesome, but it didn't last.

June: .245 / .265 / .327, 3 BB, 8 SB (2 CS)
July: .247 / .277 / .289, 2 BB, 1 SB (3 CS)

Ellsbury's hot streak ended, and he basically stopped walking and showing any sort of power. July even saw his incredible run on the basepaths halted (pun intended).

August: .287 / .337 / .404, 5 BB, 8 SB (1 CS)
September:
.296 / .345 / .426, 4 BB, 5 SB (2 CS)

Thankfully, the past month and a half have seen a revival from Ells. He still isn't walking as much as the beginning of the season, but at least he's hitting better. His slugging is also improved in these months. I'm hopeful that he'll heat up through September and hit well in the playoffs.

At present, Ellsbury is looking a lot more like Coco Crisp than Kenny Lofton (career .372 OBP). Given his long mid-season slump and our outfield injuries, holding on to Coco turned out well for Theo and the front office.

I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention Ellsbury's defense. Here goes: it's good. A total of 6 Fielding win shares from THT (Crisp has 3.5 in less time), and a .948 Revised Zone Rating in CF to Coco's .925. Looking just at CF, Coco made a play on a ball out of his zone about once every 20 innings (Innings / OOZ). Ellsbury did the same once every 16.7 innings. At a glance, Ells seems the better centerfielder.

So the question is, will Ellsbury's offense improve? PECOTA, for one, projected it would be better this year than it has: their mean projection was .288 / .348 / .397, as opposed to his current .270 / .331 / .374 line. The folks at Baseball Prospectus thought he'd become a .300 hitter by 2009. Ellsbury's only 24, and he certainly has the skills to become a great hitter, but he has yet to put it all together.

What do you guys think of Jacoby? Is he the centerfielder of the future, the face of the franchise, the spark plug to our offense? Or is he just another disappointment in the making (a la Mr Covelli Crisp)? Answer the poll, and leave your thoughts below.