The Runner Sports

Reviewing The Jacoby Ellsbury Deal

On December 4th, 2013, the New York Yankees made headlines with the signing of former Boston Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury.  The deal was for 7 years for $153 million.  At the time, some predicted Ellsbury would end up signing with the Yankees.  Still, it was another example of a former Red Sox player joining the rival team.  There were high expectations for Ellsbury when he signed.  Now, after three seasons with the Yankees, how well has this deal held up?  Has Ellbsbury been worth the $153 million that the Yankees signed him for?

To start, the biggest fear of signing Jacoby Ellsbury was the fact that he had recently suffered a major injury that held him out most of the 2012 season.  Ellsbury also spent almost the entire 2010 season on the disabled list as well. While he bounced back in 2014, the lingering issue of being “injury prone” hung above his head.   For the most part with the Yankees, Ellsbury has stayed on the field.  While he missed over 50 games in 2015, he has played barely under 150 games the other two seasons.  Ellsbury has had moments of being “banged up” but has only suffered one major injury.  His injuries have not been a major hindrance to his first three seasons.  The outlook for the future may have warning signs but thus far, Ellsbury has been on the field more so than not.  The outfielder is signed through the 2021 season, where he will be 38 years-old.

In Boston, Ellsbury put up consistent numbers year after year.  Other than his MVP-worthy 2011 season and his two seasons on the DL, Ellsbury batted in the high .200s with speed being his main standout.  Ellsbury led the AL in stolen bases three times during his tenure with the Red Sox.  How has Ellsbury transitioned to New York?  While many hoped Ellsbury would duplicate his 2011 numbers (especially the power numbers playing at Yankee Stadium), that has not been the case.  In his first three seasons in pinstripes, Ellsbury has been below his standard statistical output.  For Boston, he had a batting average of .297 compared to .264.  Some may argue that it is too small of a sample size with the Yankees to compare to his 7 seasons with the Red Sox.  However, Ellsbury’s highest season batting average (.271) with the Yankees is not higher than his lowest batting average (.280) with the Sox during a healthy season.  His on-base percentage is also down .024 compared to his days in Boston.  It is not as drastic as the batting average dip but it is another statistic that is declining.  Ellsbury has not matched his Boston numbers in terms of getting on base.

As mentioned, many fans hoped that Ellsbury would see an increase in power playing in Yankee Stadium.  Part of the justification behind the large contract was that the Yankees hoped he could duplicate those power numbers in a friendlier stadium to left-handed hitters (although Fenway Park is also hitter friendly).  A drop in his average could be due to a better power stroke, as seen with Brian McCann.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.    In three seasons, Ellsbury has hit 32 HRs.  That three season total matches his 2011 total.  That one season is an unfair standard or expectation to have for Ellsbury in terms of power numbers, but there could have been a slight bump up in power.  Other than 2014, Ellsbury has kept at his average home run rate.

The home runs should not be a concern since that is not his game.  What should be the concern, is the lack of speed he is displaying.  Once again, 2014 was the highlight for stolen bases for Ellsbury as a Yankee.  He swiped 39 bags that season, which tied his career low in a season to that point (excluding his injured seasons).  This could simply be from not getting the greenlight.  The past two seasons, the Yankees have ranked outside the top 15 in team stolen bases.  However, I do not believe that is from a culture of not stealing.  Perhaps Ellsbury’s injuries are slowing him down from stealing bases.

If his offensive numbers have been slacking, is Ellsbury at least producing with the glove?  The former Gold Glove winner has also seen a drop in his defensive game.  However, this drop is not as drastic as his offensive numbers.  In advanced fielding metrics, Ellsbury is slightly below his numbers he had when he was in Boston.  Defensive runs saved is a major statistic in terms of judging how well a fielder is playing.  Ellsbury’s 7 seasons in Boston saw him post an average of 3.8 runs saved per season.  As the Yankees’ CF, Ellsbury is averaging 1.3 defensive runs saved.  A drop of over 2 runs per year is not awful but it is still a slip.  The obvious strength for Ellsbury in the outfield is his speed and ability to track down fly balls.  Ellsbury is able to track down balls in the deep gaps at Yankee Stadium better than most outfielders. His arm strength is subpar, which could indicate why he does not have many outfield assists over his career.  As a defensive player, Ellsbury is above average.  Not as good as he once was but still stronger in the field than others.

After examining the statistics, does the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury deserve praise or criticism?  Based solely off of his numbers, Ellsbury has not yet been worth the $153 million contract he signed.  For someone earning about $22 million a year, his performance should be stronger.  To be fair, Ellsbury has not been a bust in any sense, though. His numbers simply are not the stuff of a man making over $20 million a year.  However, the final judgment of the contract after three years cannot solely be based off of his statistics.  To determine whether Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract is a good one or not, the other options at the time have to weighed.  While hindsight can distort the view of alternatives, it is fair to compare Ellsbury to the other free agent outfielders of the 2013-14 offseason.  The comparison to other players will also factor in the contract that the other player signed.

In the same offseason Ellsbury signed his deal, there was another outfielder who signed a 7-year deal for over $100 million: Shin Shoo-Choo.  Choo signed with the Texas Rangers that offseason to a 7-year, $130 million deal.  That deal was $23 million cheaper than Ellsbury.  However, Choo has been far worse than Ellsbury.  Since signing with the Rangers, Choo has played 88 fewer games than Ellsbury.  This past season, he suffered a season-ending injury fairly early in the season.  Ignoring the lack of playing, Choo has not been the same player he was in Cincinnati or Cleveland.  In Cincinnati, Choo was heralded as the batter who got on base.  He posted an impressive .423 OBP, the highest of his career.  This was not unfamiliar to Choo, as he often had an OBP in the high .300s and in 2010 he had one of .401.  However, his Ranger career has seen those numbers drop (most likely due to injury).  Last season cannot be considered too heavily since he was on the DL for the majority of it.  Like Ellsbury, Choo has been not lived up to his contract yet.

Former Yankee Curtis Granderson was also a free agent during that offseason.  Granderson, who declined the qualifying offer from the Yankees, signed with the Mets for 4 years at $60 million.  Granderson was 32 years old when he signed with the Mets, turning 33 in March.  As a Yankee, Granderson thrived in the left-handed blessings known as Yankee Stadium.  He was a two-time All-Star in his four seasons as a Yankee, hitting over 40 HRs in both of those seasons.  While his average was low, his power made up for that.  Also, Granderson was an above average outfielder defensively.  Since joining the Mets, Granderson’s home run rate has dropped.  Citi Field is more pitcher friendly, yet he is still averaging 25 bombs a year.  His batting average remains low and he has diminished RBI totals.  However, he has played over 150 games every season since being signed to the Mets and his defense is still above average.  For $60 million, his numbers are closer to appeasing the contract.

The outfield free agent class was not stacked with numerous upper-tier players.  There are only two other notable free agents from that offseason and the Yankees did sign one of them (Carlos Beltran).  The other player was someone who was stuck in a tricky spot.  Nelson Cruz only received a one-year deal for $9 million that offseason.  This was because of the PED label that was placed on him after his 50-game suspension.  While he did have a tremendous year in 2014, it is hard to imagine the Yankees would have signed him with the cloud of PED use over his head.  They were already dealing with Alex Rodriguez and his PED situation.  Realistically, Cruz would not have been a free agent the Yankees would have gone after even if they did not sign Ellsbury.

Before the final judgment is made, there is one thing about the Ellsbury contract that is hard to swallow.  When looking at Granderson, he had been an All-Star 3 times total and finished in the top 10 of MVP voting twice.  Ellsbury only accomplished those achievements once in his career (2011).  Choo had never been an All-Star or finished higher than 12th in the MVP voting.  I understand age had a factor (plus Granderson spent most of 2013 hurt) in the contracts that each of these men received.  However, it is crazy to think that two players with little prestige on their résumé received more money than Granderson.  That is not to insult their careers to that point.  Both men were great players, but perhaps not to the caliber of Curtis Granderson.

After three seasons, has the Jacoby Ellsbury deal been worth it?  No, not at all.  To be honest, I was never a fan of the contract to begin with.  I did put that bias to the side to have an honest examination of the contract and Ellsbury’s performance thus far.  However, it is hard to argue that it has been a good signing.  The better alternative would have been re-signing Granderson to the shorter, cheaper deal.  It would be foolish to say that Granderson would have kept hitting over 40 HRs in the past three seasons in New York, but it is not crazy to think he could have hit in the 30 range.  If the contracts were the same, I would take Ellsbury over Granderson.  However, the contract that Ellsbury signed with the Yankees is a prime example of overpaying a player.  Ellsbury is a great player, but his contract should be given to someone who puts up his 2011 numbers almost every year.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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