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Red Sox continue to disrespect Ellsbury

Posted by Bill Koch on January 7, 2010

Jacoby Ellsbury makes a diving catch

Even Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than the Boston Red Sox have given Jacoby Ellsbury during his short time in the major leagues.

Ellsbury’s impending move to left field is just one more knife that the Red Sox have shoved between the 26-year-old’s shoulder blades, yet another obstacle that the club has placed in the middle of Ellsbury’s road to stardom. Boston’s management team, a group that has insisted upon trying to develop its own young talent over the past decade instead of splashing out the cash for aging free agents, has decided that Mike Cameron is a better option in center field for the balance of the next two seasons at a hefty price tag of $15.5 million.

Let’s put aside for a second the fact that Cameron is 37 years old and can’t possibly be counted on to play 150 games in center field in each of the next two seasons. Something else is going on here, and it runs deeper that the Red Sox shifting Ellsbury to left field. Boston has done nothing but humiliate Ellsbury since he made his incredible debut late in the 2007 season and appears set on continuing that pattern of behavior until he can’t take it anymore. I have absolutely no good reason to explain why the Red Sox would do this – I’ll admit that right up front – but there’s no way that Boston can’t look at Ellsbury’s case and think that it could have handled it much more adroitly.

This is another move by Theo Epstein and Co. that is designed to help Boston’s defense, a decision that comes on the heels of signing Adrian Beltre to play third base and Marco Scutaro to start at shortstop. The Red Sox have given up on any hopes of hitting with the New York Yankees and have decided to cut down their runs allowed, rolling out a defense-based lineup behind newly-acquired starting pitcher John Lackey and the rest of Boston’s staff. Epstein and his associates have no doubt been putting their crack statistical analysis to use again, going along with the http://www.fangraphs.com assertion that Ellsbury was the worst everyday defensive center fielder in baseball during the 2009 season.

That’s right. Ellsbury was worse than Kosuke Fukudome. He was worse than Vernon Wells. He was worse than Franklin Gutierrez. He was worse than Colby Rasmus. He was worse than 53-year-old Torii Hunter. Cameron ranked third on the Fangraphs list of defensive center fielders with a 10.0 UZR rating, a statistic that combines arm strength, range and error potential. This is the point where I take my eyes off the page and put them on the field – and they told me last year that in this case the statistics are bullshit. Ellsbury plays as hard and has as much speed as any outfielder in the majors, and there are at least 20 teams who would jump at the chance to write his name on their lineup card every day for the next 10 years. The Red Sox don’t appear to be one of them.

Cameron is the second veteran outfielder to stand in Ellsbury’s way. Coco Crisp was the first, and he found himself on the bench in 2007 as Ellsbury played a key role in helping the Red Sox win their second World Series in four years. Ellsbury hit .353 and posted a .902 OPS in 27 games as a September call-up, eventually taking over the center field job in the postseason after Crisp went ice-cold in the American League Championship Series against Cleveland. All Ellsbury did from there was go 7-for-16 and score four runs out of the leadoff spot in Boston’s four-game rout of the Colorado Rockies, appearing to have cemented himself a starting role in center for the 2008 season heading into spring training.

Except that didn’t happen. The Red Sox, blinded by the thoughts that Crisp would actually deliver on his four-year, $26-million mistake of a contract, ignored what was right in front of them and decided to make Ellsbury jump through some hoops. He started 63 games in center field, 36 in left field and 30 in right field while being shifted up and down the batting order. Ellsbury hit just .280 and produced only 36 extra-base hits all season, his focus clearly shaken by the fact that his role had inexplicably changed. Boston had showed extraordinary patience with second baseman Dustin Pedroia in 2007, suffering with This Manager’s Little Cribbage Buddy through his .182 slump that lasted into May, until he turned it around and started tearing the cover off the baseball. Ellsbury was afforded no such patience or understanding.

Crisp was traded for reliever Ramon Ramirez prior to the start of the 2009 season, finally giving Ellsbury his full shot in center field, and he responded by improving in almost every offensive category despite being repeatedly shifted around the lineup again. Ellsbury posted more hits, doubles, triples, RBIs, stolen bases and walks than he had in his rookie season. His batting average rose to .301, his OBP climbed from .336 to .355 and his OPS jumped from .729 to .770. It was an encouraging progression from a young hitter who seemed to be coming into his own. Ellsbury’s plate discipline and ability to get on base showed the necessary signs of improvement and figure to develop further if he’s given the chance to continue atop Boston’s order.

That is until the Red Sox put on a hard push to sign Cameron. With Jason Bay’s status still up in the air and Beltre not yet in the fold, Ellsbury’s name began popping up in trade rumors involving San Diego Padres’ slugger Adrian Gonzalez. It wasn’t the first time Ellsbury was supposedly heading out of town – his name was featured in one of two packages for Johan Santana before the 2008 season – but that couldn’t have made it any easier. Young players can say what they want about understanding the business side of things, but their inexperience can’t possibly allow them to comprehend how the team that drafted and developed them is suddenly ready to ship them out of town. There’s no telling how those discussions will affect Ellsbury heading into this season. Add in the position change, which This Manager admitted had disappointed and shaken Ellsbury when he heard the news, and one of Boston’s brightest young stars could be ready to take another step back. That’s not what the Red Sox need right now – their offensive prospects look bleak enough after losing Bay from an order that was at least one bat short already. The popgun attack that Boston is going to run out on Opening Day is a borderline joke compared to the 2004 lineup that mashed and pounded its opponents into submission. The Red Sox have a legitimate threat atop their order who could make the difference in the tight, low-scoring game that they seem to want to play this season. All Boston’s management needs to do now is open its eyes and realize what it has in Ellsbury before they’ve worn him down into a shell of the player he has the potential to be.

8 Responses to “Red Sox continue to disrespect Ellsbury”

  1. Rob said

    Seriously dude, virtually all of your observations are painfully stupid. “Worse than Franklin Guttierrez…” You mean the same Franklin Guttierrez that had the best UZR…AT ANY POSITION…in all of major league baseball last season?
    They moved him to LF to accomodate a 3-time Gold Glove CF. Let me ask you this; were they disrespecting Ellsbury when they traded Crisp and handed him the starting CF position prior to 2009? Or disrespecting Ells when they stayed with him at leadoff despite his inability to reach base for most of the season?
    Sure Ellsbury may be disappointed about the position change but most important, it’s not like they benched him or shopped him around. If anything, they’ve been patient with Ellsbury; a guy they almost certainly still maintain high hopes for.
    So please, by all means, please give us your interpretation of the word “disrespect” again.

  2. Collin said

    Definitely agree that Ellsbury has speed and plays hard. However, there’s a reason for his poor Zone Rating – from what I’ve read, he takes AWFUL routes on balls. As you know, you can have all the speed in the world, but if you take awkward or incorrect routes on balls, speed isn’t going to help you.

    That said, if you look at Fangraphs for two years ago, Ellsbury was an outstanding defensive left fielder, one of the best in baseball. For whatever reason, he’s played much better defensively in left field than in center. Putting him in left gives him the best chance to succeed, and an outfield of him in left and Cameron in center gives the Sox some solid outfield defense.

  3. Tom said

    Rob, grow up.

  4. bk1015 said

    UZR aside, I’m taking Ellsbury over any of the guys that I named as my everyday center fielder. That was my larger point. The fact that the Red Sox continue to play with his head is ridiculous.

    I would also argue at this point that defensive statistics are so new to baseball that they aren’t 100 percent reliable. You basically have guys sitting behind computers trying to determine which balls actual humans SHOULD be able to field, and I don’t think that’s exact enough to be the end-all factor in defensive ability. If that’s truly the case, and the Red Sox have completely flushed any thoughts of offense down the toilet, they should have retained Alex Gonzalez and signed Marco Scutaro to play third base.

  5. bigblue123 said

    Concerning Ellsbury’s inability to get on base — ellsbury obp 352- – only one team (beloved yankees were better) in the AL — – what’s wrong with that?
    Ellsbury is a slightly above average fielder who makes up in speed what he lacks in reading a batted ball- do we need UZR to tell us that??

  6. Rob said

    I woulda been fine w/ leaving Ells in CF and putting Cameron in left. His OBP was better than average last year and is likely still improving. I love the guy Very good, improving overall player and I’d like to seem him signed long-term.
    That said, I believe the team is probably better served w/ Cameron in center because of superior instincts and arm strength. But if they’d left Ells in CF. I’d be fine with it.
    I just fail to see how he’s really been “disrespected” by the Red Sox this off season. Lowell has certainly been disrespected; that’s clear. A position move to accomodate a 3 time Gold Glover who’s just better defensively, IMO, that’s how big market teams operate. If they’d shopped Ellsbury around the entire off season, then told him they were moving him to 8th or 9th in the lineup in 2010, I’d agree with your premise.

  7. […] That shouldn’t be anything new for anyone in Boston who has followed Ellsbury’s career. They rewarded him for hitting .438 in the 2007 World Series by trading for Coco Crisp in the offseason and forcing a platoon situation in center field. They rewarded Ellsbury for batting over .300 and stealing 70 bases last year by bringing in 37-year-old Mike Cameron to play center field, shoving Ellsbury to left and creating some ill will before the season even started. The fact that Ellsbury would have been safe in center and away from Beltre while Cameron, who ended up injured anyway, is cruel irony. […]

  8. […] deem The Mike Cameron Experiment an absolute failure, and we have to tell the Red Sox front office that we saw it coming. Cameron will have abdominal surgery and be shelved until spring training next year after just 48 […]

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