The Red Sox recalled their top hitting prospect, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, on Saturday to replace Coco Crisp. With the trade deadline fact approaching, baseball fans will get a look at the player who was rumored to be included in a Mark Beurhle trade just a week or so ago.
Ellsbury's offensive game revolves around getting on-base and using his speed. Those are two qualities that are always welcome despite the Moneyball notion that stealing bases is a vestigal skill from a long gone era. One need only glance to the Left Coast and Reggie Willits to see the potency of that unique skill set.
There is one major difference between the two players. Ellsbury's Contact Rate (CR) is higher than Willits' minor league one, 87% versus 81%. Is that enough for Red Sox fans to conclude Ellsbury is going to be as good as Reggie Willits? Probably. Is it enough for non-Red Sox fans to conclude similarly? Probably not.
Some smaller differences in Ellsbury's favor are his age and the ballparks he has played in. Jacoby is two years younger than Willits and did not have the benefit of friendly hitting confines of playing in the California League for High A nor at Salt Lake for AAA. Despite that, Ellbury's minor league SLG is still better than Willit's. Those two additional differences should be enough for the non-Red Sox fan to conclude that Jacoby Ellsbury could be as good as Reggie Willits.
Of course, a closer look at Willits' CRs shows year-to-year improvement from 78.7% in 2004 to 84% in 2005 to 85.8% in 2006. So far, Willits' major league CR this season is 84.1%. Ellsbury doesn't have the room to improve to that extent, but, if Ellsbury can match that 84% CR as a major leaguer, it should allow him to be the East Coast version of Reggie Willits.
Or more aptly accounting for the purported East Coast bias in baseball, Willits will be the West Coast version of Ellsbury.