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Jacoby Ellsbury: Bust Candidate in 2012?

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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.