As we continue our series of Hall of Fame ballot previews with the MLB season shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, we take a look at the career of Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury won two World Series during his career, both with the Red Sox.
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Why is he on the ballot?
Ellsbury was a very good defensive center fielder, winning a Gold Glove Award in 2011 and producing 29 WAR runs fielding in his career. He stole 343 bases with an 82.9% success rate, helping him produce 36 career WAR runs baserunning. He earned a second-place finish in the 2011 AL MVP race behind Justin Verlander in his lone All-Star season when he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He led the league with 364 total bases and had over 30 home runs and stolen bases that season. He led the AL in stolen bases three times, all with 50+ stolen bases including 70 in 2009.
Why won’t he make the Hall of Fame?
Ellsbury’s career, assuming it’s over, only lasted 11 seasons. Injuries hobbled him throughout his career, starting with broken ribs from a collision with teammate Adrián Beltré in April 2010. After struggling to get the team to give him an MRI, they found four broken ribs. He attempted to return in late May, dealt with a lot of pain, and after three games had another MRI which revealed a fifth broken rib, and he went back on the DL. He was back for nine more games in August before being shut down for good. Following his monster 2011 season, he got hurt again in 2012 when his shoulder collided with Rays shortstop Reid Brignac trying to break up a double play. That limited him to 74 games that year.
In 2015, the second year of his seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees, a knee injury limited him to 111 games. Elsbury would play 112 games in 2017 as he suffered a concussion crashing into the wall making a catch on the opening pitch of the Yankees’ May 24th game. In 2018, Ellsbury had an oblique strain that kept him out at the start of the year, followed by a torn labrum in his hip that ended any chance of him playing that season. In 2019, a foot injury caused him to miss the start of the year. It was later revealed to be plantar fasciitis, a tissue disorder in the foot that results in pain in the heels. The Yankees released him in November of 2019 and no team has signed him since.
Assuming Ellsbury doesn’t make it back to the majors, that will mean he last played in the MLB in 2017 and make him eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2023. His career will be remembered for how hard he played, to the point that he ended up hurt from it multiple times. Unfortunately, it will also be remembered for the fact that he played just four seasons of that seven-year deal he signed with the Yankees, and that their $153 million dollar investment in him resulted in just 9.7 WAR.
It’s also worth remembering how good he was during the Red Sox’s 2007 and 2013 World Series trips. In ’07, a rookie Ellsbury with just 33 regular-season games under his belt had seven hits, four of them doubles, along with two walks and a stolen base in the World Series sweep of the Rockies. He was worth .27 win probability added in the series. In 2013, a much more veteran Ellsbury had nine hits and four stolen bases in the ALDS win over the Rays, seven hits, four walks and two more stolen bases in the ALCS against the Tigers, and while he didn’t play as well in the World Series, he still scored four runs in the six-game win over the Cardinals. That postseason, he had six stolen bases, scored 14 runs, and produced .58 win probability added.
Injuries threw Ellsbury so far off course that we never got the chance to see if he could sustain close to his 2011-2014 peak where he had a 119 OPS+ and averaged 4.7 WAR in spite of only playing 74 games in 2012. He ended up with 31.0 WAR in his career and JAWS ranks him 77th all-time among center fielders.
Up next: Matt Cain.