Jacoby Ellsbury: Bust Candidate in 2012?

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of the Boston Red Sox watches his three-run home run in the top of the 14th inning against the New York Yankees on September 25, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Jacoby Ellsbury had a breakout 2011 season that I am sure no one saw coming heading into fantasy drafts last March. After playing in only 18 games in 2010, where he hit just .192-.241-.244 with 5 RBI, 10 runs and 7 stolen bases in 78 at bats, Ellsbury had an MVP-like season in 2011. He showed us power that he has never shown before, as he triple slashed .321-.376-.552 with 32 HRs, 105 RBI, 119 runs and 39 stolen bases in 660 at bats. He would have received my vote for AL MVP last year.

I ranked him as my #8 fantasy outfielder in my Early Top 50 Outfielder Rankings, and I think he can have a good year in 2012, but there is no way I expect him to repeat his 2011 performance in 2012.

My reasons after the jump:

Heading into the 2011 season, Ellsbury had hit a total of 20 home runs in a little over 2 full seasons in the majors. Then somehow he had a Brady Anderson-like season, hitting 32 home runs and a total of 83 extra base hits. His 83 extra base hits in 2011 equaled his total for the entire 2008 and 2009 seasons combined.

Ellsbury had a career high in home runs with 32, a .230 ISO and .552 SLG% last season, and when compared to previous years, his 2011 season looks like a career year and an aberration. Let's take a look at his major league ISO, SLG and HR/FB rates for his career:

2007: .155/.509/10.3% in 116 at bats

2008: .114/.394/7.0% in 554 at bats

2009: .114/.415/4.6% in 624 at bats

2010: .051/.244/0.0% in 78 at bats

2011: .230/.552/16.7% in 660 at bats

Add in the fact that his minor league ISO/SLG percentages were more in line with his 2008 and 2009 power stats, and you have to agree that Ellsbury had a career year in 2011. The trend in his power stats tell me that 2011 was a career year for him and he will have trouble repeating in 2012.

Looking at his fly ball rates, we see that he is not a fly ball hitter, as his 34.1% fly ball rate would indicate. Actually, Ellsbury has seen a increase in his fly ball rates since his rookie year, but the power production is not sustainable.

Ellsbury had his breakout last year despite a drop in his plate discipline. Let's take a look at the following plate discipline stats, courtesy of FanGraphs. In 2011,

  • He swung at more pitches in the zone - 63% in 2011 vs 58% in 2009
  • His outside the zone swing percentage of 28% was the highest of his career, and an increase from the 24% mark in 2009
  • He made less contact on balls inside the zone, as his zone contact rates dropped from 95% in 2009 to 92% in 2011
  • His overall contact rates dropped from 88% in 2009 to 86% in 2011
Ellsbury did enjoy a jump in his line drive rate in 2011, from 17.7% in 2009 to 22.9% last season. As a result, his BA and BABIP jumped to career highs of .321 and .336 respectively. I don't see the bump in line drive rate as sustainable, as his ground ball rate, nornally in the 49-53% range, dropped to 43% in 2011. I see his batted ball data regressing to the mean in 2012, with a huge drop in power, but could still see him hit in the .285-.290 range with high teens home run totals, 100+ runs scored and 45 stolen bases.
These are not bust numbers for any hitter, but he will disappoint fantasy owners who draft him expecting anything close to his 2011 season.

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