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Brett Gardner Vs. Jacoby Ellsbury

Posted by Steve Lombardi on June 22, 2011

Having fun with Play Index, I looked at the careers of these two outfielders through yesterday.

Here they sit, side-by-side:

1 Brett Gardner 9.5 1231 2008 2011 24-27 370 1057 198 288 42 19 12 104 138 1 213 11 19 6 13 100 25 .272 .361 .382 .743 *78/D NYY
2 Jacoby Ellsbury 9.4 1835 2007 2011 23-27 422 1666 274 491 82 18 28 168 126 5 226 20 11 12 29 160 34 .295 .349 .416 .765 *8/79D BOS
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/22/2011.

Ellsbury had a head-start on Gardner.  He has more pop and is a better baserunner too.  But, if you had to pick one of these speedy outfielders for your team, from this point going forward, which one would you choose and why?

73 Responses to “Brett Gardner Vs. Jacoby Ellsbury”

  1. John Autin Says:

    Steve, can you explain the discrepancy between the WAR values shown by Play Index searches, and those shown on the player pages?

    Play Index shows 9.5 WAR for Gardner, 9.4 for Ellsbury.
    Player pages have 10.2 for Gardner, 9.5 for Ellsbury.

  2. Steve Lombardi Says:

    I would have to defer to Neil on that one.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    It looks like we have a bug with the 2010 WAR values in the PI not matching the player pages. We'll get that fixed.

  4. Chuck Says:

    "He has more pop and is a better baserunner too."

    Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of monumental proportions.

    "Baserunning" and "stolen bases" are NOT the same thing.

    When you hear a player described as a great, or even poor "baserunner", how many steals they have, or their percentage is not part of the equation.

    Sorry for the interruption, I now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  5. Steve Lombardi Says:

    Chuck - FWIW, Gardner has made a few bad baseruning mistakes this year - like not scoring from 3B when the ball got past the catcher...

  6. BSK Says:

    If you remove Ellsbury's 2010 season, they are much closer in OBP (Jacoby's bumps up to .354). Ellsbury should have never tried to come back from the injuries he had that year. I realize it's not a huge difference, and there likely may be a period of Gardner's career we might also want to disregard, but even in total, the difference in OBP is small and Ellsbury has been trending upwards in that. Gardner appears to be the superior defensive player, which certainly is of consideration, but many people feel that Ellsbury's statistical record and scouting record don't mesh. It's pretty close regardless and I'd probably take Ellsbury only because he seems like a more "exciting" player to watch, as arbitrary and subjective as that is.

  7. Andy Says:

    I don't get Gardner's baserunning issues this year, including but not limited to all the caught stealings. In the past he was a very intelligent player who was aggressive on the basepaths and often took extra bases. This year he looks like he has no clue how to run the bases.

  8. Chuck Says:

    Steve @#5,

    I agree, and I don't consider either player to be a good baserunner.

    Speed covers a lot of mistakes.

  9. Dan Says:

    What would be the best way to look at "good" and "bad" baserunning statistically?

    Would it be (Times On Base - HR) / Runs?

    Or would you weight runs when scoring after tripling less than after doubling less than after singling/walking/reaching on error etc?

    I am not sure if there is even a way you could do this...

  10. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Base stealing is certainly part of baserunning. It is not the only factor.

    Even last season, when he had an excellent SB%, I did not feel Gardner was a great base stealer. There were a few times when he was supposed to attempt a steal and didn't go, or waited several pitches, because he just couldn't get a jump. There were many times I'd see him retreating his lead back to first when a lefty was delivering the ball to home plate.

    Speed does cover a lot of mistakes, and for that reason Gardner is a good baserunner. If he also had great instincts and decision making, he'd be the best baserunner in baseball, since he's just about the fastest guy around. Since he doesn't, he's merely good (and frustrating).

  11. Larry R. Says:

    I personally would take Ellsbury. I think there's more upside to him and I think he's more likely to be used properly by his team. Why Gardner doesn't bat leadoff for the Yanks is beyond me.

  12. Whiz Says:

    Ditto to Johnny Twisto, their speed makes them better than average, but with better fundamentals they could be so much more.

    @9, Dan, some things you can look at XBT% (% of time an extra base is taken, e.g., going from first to third on a single), extra bases taken, such as advancing on a passed ball or wild pitch, OOB (times out on bases), pick-offs and PCS (pitcher caught stealing). These are listed in the base-running stats for a player on B-R.

    So, to back up Johnny Twisto's statement, Ellsbury and Gardner take an extra base on a hit 42% and 47% of the time, respectively; the MLB average is about 40%. They advance an extra base about 9% of their times on base (MLB average is 7%), their SB % is 80% or more (MLB average 72% lately), and they get picked off less than average (compared to their SB totals), with Ellsbury being a little better. Overall they are better than average.

  13. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Gardner was moved up to leadoff early in the season, but played poorly, so he was dropped back down. Girardi just said that when Jeter returns, he's the leadoff guy, which was sort of disappointing. Maybe after 3000 hits he'll start trying to move him down.

  14. Samuel Says:

    @#5 "Chuck - FWIW, Gardner has made a few bad baseruning mistakes this year - like not scoring from 3B when the ball got past the catcher."

    That was one mistake and Gardner should not have even been on third to begin the play. After Cervelli hit a ground ball single to LF, the third base coach should have sent Gardner home from second, especially on Crawford's arm.

    Gardner and Ellsbury are the same player, except Ellsbury has more pop. They were also the exact same in the minor leagues throughout their careers.

    But with Ellsbury's injury history, I would definitely take Gardner for the future.

  15. kenh Says:

    I would take Ellsbury based on his ability to hit for more power than Gardner, his base running and his ability to play centerfield. However, in fairness to Gardner, he may be a good centerfielder who has never had the opportunity because of the presence of Granderson. Any stats on how these two compare defensively and the quality of their arms?

  16. Voomo Zanzibar Says:

    Gardner, all the way.
    He went bald young, has a lot to prove.

  17. Timmy p Says:

    I like Ellsbury, great player but I was unaware he changed his number. Will reevaluate.

  18. John Autin Says:

    Gardner has better range in his singing voice. I think a lot of teams are going to revive the tradition of fielding a barbershop quartet.

  19. Bryan Says:

    @16, LOL

  20. Timmy p Says:

    @16,17,18 - This is the type of information often overlooked by modern statistical information, but nonetheless should be taken into account.

  21. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Kenh, I think Gardner is certainly capable of playing CF. He plays an excellent LF. His throwing is inconsistent. He has a pretty good arm, but occasionally he'll just throw a lawn dart.

  22. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    @10 JT,

    Couldn't agree more. Watching Jeter take three straight pitches while Gardner just watches is annoying beyond words.
    I know some fast guys have a perpetual green light to steal, I wonder if Girardi allows Gardner that luxury.

    But I still love Jake's steal of home off Pettitte... exciting play, wish I could of saw it live.

  23. Pat B Says:

    Clearly, you have to take Ellsbury because Gardner doesn't really exist. I mean, the Yankees don't really develop talent as well as the Red Sox so there's no chance a comparable player actually exists.

  24. Richard Chester Says:

    @9, @12
    What also counts is knowing when NOT to run for an extra base and that is something which cannot be quantified.

  25. jiffy Says:

    Side note: so, so, so glad Tacoby Bellsbury is now on Jacoby's page. Thanks for the free taco, Jacoby!

  26. John Autin Says:

    @24, Richard Chester -- Actually, the negative consequences of not knowing when to try for an extra base are quantified. "Outs on Base" (OOB) is available on the player's batting page, under Baserunning & Misc.

    Ellsbury -- 19 career OOB, 3.0% of times on base.
    Gardner -- 11 career OOB, 2.5% of times on base.

  27. Richard Chester Says:

    Thanks for the correction.

  28. Thomas Court Says:

    As a Yankee fan who is not a Red Sox hater, I have to say that this is as close to a dead even comparison as you can come. I live in Massachusetts, but just about as close to New York state as you can get. I watch and listen to a lot of Red Sox and Yankee games.

    Gardner should be developing his leadoff skills instead of watching Jeter's deteriorate - but try explaining that to fellow Yankee fans who think that Jeter is as infallible as the Pope. Part of me thinks that the Yankees will let Gardner get away, and we will watch him become a star on some other team. The only sign that I see that the Yankees are committed to him is that they gave him the number 11.

    Julianna Marguiles - I mean Jacoby Ellsbury on the Red Sox is one heck of a player. He is a better base stealer, but he does ground into more double plays.

    In this dead heat of a footrace, I think that I would pick Ellsbury by the slimmest of margins (just don't tell my fellow Yankee fans).

  29. Steve Lombardi Says:

    Julianna Marguiles - I mean Jacoby Ellsbury...


    Personally, I always thought that Ellsbury looked like Jiminy Cricket.

    Gardner? Well, someone once wrote a song about his look:

  30. DSFC Says:

    They're comparable players offensively - Gardner works a few more walks, Ellsbury has a bit more power.

    In the outfield, though, there's no comparison. The gap between Gardner and Ellsbury with the glove is massive. Gardner's the better all around player.

  31. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @28/ Thomas Court - agreed that Gardner should be batting leadoff; perhaps he may be better off on another team, playing centerfield, batting leadoff, and developing both his offensive and defensive skills to the max. Granderson is a pretty good CFer, but Gardner's speed is a bit wasted in LF.

    Useless factoid: Ellsbury is the only Red Sox starter so far NOT to have a triple this year; doesn't it seem that he would be the most likely to hit one?

  32. Zachary Says:

    I'd much rather have Ellsbury. No question, really. He's a better offensive player with a higher ceiling, as their minor league records show, and his one bad season in center field is skewing the defensive difference. Jacoby actually has the highest dWAR single season of the two.

    They are quite similar at the moment, but Ellsbury is much more likely to put WARs of 6, 7, or 8, I think, because he's got a bigger offensive game and has just as much defensive talent. I'm fine with either, but Ellsbury has a much higher chance at stardom.

  33. tim Says:

    They're both pretty good. Obviously, Ellsworth is doing better this year and Gardner did better last year. Saw a stat called defensive WAR, no idea how they figure it out, but it said that Gardner was the most valuable defensive player in baseball last year. Yankees traditionally do well with a center fielder playing left.

  34. Chuck Says:

    They're both one-trick ponies who rely on their speed..a serious leg injury to either of them and their careers will be over.

    Neither has the skills to hang around as a platoon player.

  35. Steve Lombardi Says:

    Dunno. Brett Butler and Otis Nixon lasted a long time.

  36. Chuck Says:

    And if either had blown a knee rounding second, they wouldn't have lasted another fifteen minutes.

  37. RobMer Says:

    @28, Thomas Court says: Gardner should be developing his leadoff skills instead of watching Jeter's deteriorate - but try explaining that to fellow Yankee fans who think that Jeter is as infallible as the Pope.

    Is the Pope inflallible? I guess I'm just a jaded Catholic!

    Joking aside, I really don't understand what appears at times to be almost mock outrage from some Yankee fans (and non-Yankee fans) on why Jeter has remained batting lead-off. (I must travel in different circles. I live in NY now, but the Yankees are not my favoriate team, but the Yankee fans I do know want Jeter removed from lead off in favor of Gardner, although I'm sure there's a range of emotions among such a large base of fans.)

    Jeter has been excellent at the top of the order for nearly 15 year years. 2010 was the first year where age crept in and he still got base at about a .340 clip. No need to panic until the team could see if he would rebound any, especially considering the turmoil the move will cause in the NY media, which will spill into the club house. (Jorge Posada, anyone?) Yeah, it's easy on the outside to make decisions. A little more difficult when managing the entire picture, especially in New York and team named the Yankees, and a player named Jeter.

    Jeter, hasn't rebounded, but then again Gardner really sucked early on, so it's only been about a month that the cries for Gardner to lead off have been building, not surprising as he's gotten hot. So what I'm hearing is Girardi's an idiot for not trashing the team Captain, and dropping him in the order after fifteen seasons of fine work.

    Let's also keep in mind that Jeter has been excellent leading off ball games and leading off innings THIS YEAR. I believe he's hitting better than .350 with a .420 OBP in those situations. In other words, Jeter hasn't hurt the Yankees this year as a lead-off batter. He's hurt them in non-lead-off situations! Couple in that all studies on batting order show a fairly negligible impact on batting order, so it appears that Girardi really has handled this properly so far. The Yankees are more than surviving.

    If Gardner stays hot the Yankees will begin to drop Jeter down in the lineup. They gave Bernie Williams his walking papers. They told Posada he could no longer catch and they will let him leave after this season no matter what he does the rest of the way. They will eventually drop Jeter down in the lineup. How soon will depend on what Jeter and Gardner do the rest of the way.

    Let's stop pretending we can't figure out why Jeter is batting lead off. It's pretty easy to understand and it's been fine.

  38. Johnny Twisto Says:

    And if either had blown a knee rounding second, they wouldn't have lasted another fifteen minutes.

    And if Greg Maddux took an icepick through the skull, he wouldn't have won as many CYAs.

    What a pointless comment.

  39. Chuck Says:

    "And if Greg Maddux took an icepick through the skull, he wouldn't have won as many CYAs. "

    "What a pointless comment"

    I agree, Johnny, so, care to enlighten us to exactly the point?

  40. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I mean, one-trick pony, are you serious? Gardner has a wide range of skills. He's the kind of player who should be celebrated, not mocked. You describe him as if he was Willy Taveras. There may be similarities but Gardner is a much, much better player. Just a few years ago, when he was in the minors, no one thought he could be a regular in the majors. And for the past season and a half, he's been one of the best outfielders in the league. Yes, he's fast. He's also an excellent fielder. He has a decent arm. He can hit (.282 since 2010). He is patient -- he probably saw more pitches per PA than any player in history last season, with a .379 OBP since last year. And on top of that, he's slugging 50 points *higher* than league average this year. To describe him as a blown-out knee away from irrelevancy is meaningless. Who are all these players who succeed despite blown out knees? How many games will Roy Halladay win after he tears his labrum?

  41. Chuck Says:


  42. Mike Says:

    Not sure what's with all the comments of Ellsbury having much more power. Their OPS+ are nearly identical

    Ellsbury- 99
    Gardner- 98

    I'm also shocked that Gardner has a higher WAR in over 600 less PA's. That is well over 1 full season.

    And this is not a knock on Ellsbury but he isn't as great as he is at Fenway than he is on the road. (Most Red Sox batters aren't of course) Whereas Gardner, who also plays in a hitters ballpark, is a better Away hitter than at Home

    Home- .301/.356/.440 tOPS+ 108
    Away- .289/.343/.394 tOPS+ 93

    Home- .265/.359/.382 tOPS+ 99
    Away- .280/.362/.382 tOPS+ 101

    It's a very tough call. It's almost like a Pedroia vs. Cano type. In 2008 and 2009, mostly everyone said Pedroia. Now in 2010 and 2011, mostly everyone says Cano.

  43. Mike Says:

    A knock on Gardner though, is that he is not great against lefties whereas Ellsbury hits lefties just as well as he hits righties.

    A knock on Ellsbury is that he is not a very good leadoff hitter (and by leadoff, this includes leading off an inning, not just the first inning)

    When leading off an inning, Gardner's OBP is .398 which is outstanding (Samll sample size since it's 61 games/61 PA's but he has a .459 OBP leading off a game) whereas Ellsbury only has a .324 OBP leading off an inning (.336 batting lead off overall)

    If I can say who has the edge where
    Leading off- Gardner
    Defense- Gardner
    Basepaths- Ellsbury
    Hitting- Ellsbury (although Gardner I'd say is better at the plate, but not a better hitter, and when I mean hitter, obviously I mean hitting the ball)

  44. Dvd Avins Says:

    @17 @28 Anyone with Fred Stanley's number is destined for greatness,

  45. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    @ Johnny twisto

    No, it was professor Plum in the study with the candle stick.

  46. jim Says:

    gardner-- 20 less points of AVG, 20 more of OBP = worth it

  47. Neil L. Says:

    "It's almost like a Pedroia vs. Cano type. In 2008 and 2009, mostly everyone said Pedroia. Now in 2010 and 2011, mostly everyone says Cano."

    Mike, don't give anyone ideas for another Yankee/Red Sox player-comparison blog.

    Steve (and others), don't take offense ..... mostly kidding.

    So will the similarity scores for Ellsbury/Gardner always come out at 1000?

  48. John Autin Says:

    @32, Zachary: "[Ellsbury is] a better offensive player with a higher ceiling, as their minor league records show."

    Zachary, can you clarify as to which part of Ellsbury's minor-league record shows a higher ceiling than Gardner? I'm looking at both, and I just don't see it. They look profoundly similar, especially at AAA:
    -- Ellsbury, .305 BA / .366 OBP / .387 SLG, 33 SB in 91 games.
    -- Gardner, .280 BA / .391 OBP / .385 SLG, 61 SB in 143 games.

    As elsewhere, more singles for Ellsbury, but more walks (and more isolated power) for Gardner.

  49. Steve Says:

    Both top of the order guys,I take the guy with higher OBP.

  50. Neil L. Says:

    Steve, your post begs the question. Gardner has a 0.012 lead in OBP with 600 less plate appearances. So who do you take?

  51. RobMer Says:

    Gardner gets on base more and is a better defender. That's the one I'll take.

  52. Steve Says:

    50 Same age,same position,both bat left,it's a true toss up.Need a chrystal ball to figure who will wind up being better.I think you could take either and not be wrong,unless one guy goes south.I'd go Gardner for the slight OBP advantage.

  53. Steve Says:

    OT I was looking at Wes Ferrells stats and now I'm curious to see a list of the best hitting pitchers.

  54. John Says:

    What is this? A Red Sox vs Yankees blog post? Is this some sort of cheap attempt to boost readership? Are you guys turning into ESPN over there? Sheesh.


    I haven't paid much attention to Gardner, but Jake seems to have developed some power this year.

  55. Mike Says:

    Neil L, Are you talking about 2011 or career?

    2011, Ellsbury has a lead but slightly.

    Career, Gardner leads.

  56. Neil L. Says:

    Mike, just looking at the career numbers in Steve's original blog.

  57. Doug N. Says:

    For Ellsbury: more pop, better base stealer, doesn't strikeout as much.

    For Gardner: takes more walks, better defense

    I go with Ellsbury. On observation, I don't think his defense deficit compared to Gardner is as bad as indicated by his WAR scores.

    This is just a wild guess, but I'm thinking the weird layout in CF in Fenway (or getting used to that weird layout) may be messing up Ellsbury's dWAR somehow. In 2008. he played a little less than half his games in CF and most of the rest in LF, and he had a very good +2.2 dWAR. In 2009, the same player plays every game in CF, and he scores a -1.1. He was injured a lot in 2010, but this year's he's on pace for a dWAR around +1 or so. Still not in Gardner's class, but closer and trending the right way.

  58. Doug N. Says:


    Dan, maybe a simple baserunning efficiency metric would be:

    (Runs - HR) / (Times on Base - HR)

    Still depends a great deal on where you hit in the lineup and how much help you get from your friends. But, for comparing two guys where those other factors appear to be neutralized, might be instructive if there was significant difference in a metric like this.

  59. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    I asked John Autin a while back, and I'm not sure if he got back to me, so if anyone else knows, please chime in.
    I know in football everything is measured. From a guy's vertical, to his dash, to his squat.
    I remember a young Dieon Sanders breaking a 50(?) yard dash record at the NFL combine.
    I was wondering if similar records are kept in baseball (like quickest 1st to third, or quickest down the line, or a pitcher to the plate, or longest outfield throw).
    I know none of that proves much - devon white was known to be faster than Henderson, so was Lankford, but I thought it would be fun to see who was truly faster, Els or Gar?

  60. Timmy P Says:

    @59 I have heard that for shear running speed Juan Pierre is the fastest man in baseball.

  61. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    If you use a weighted system to account for bulk, Fielder actually generates more speed per pound than anyone in the history of sports except secritariat.
    And Zambrano has the fastest temper. It was once clocked at 104 MPH and knocked Kirby Puckett's whig into a bucket of KFC. RIP KP.

  62. Random Sports Guy Says:

    Brett Gardner > Jacoby Ellsbury

  63. Carl Says:

    The 2011 Ellsbury is a much better offensive player than any version of Gardner, unless you give the entire offensive game to OBP.

    He's hitting for more power and a higher BA (and a lot more power), has more SB and a much higher SB % - Gardner is leading the league in CS, despite not playing every day.

    I can't really tell how WAR is figured - are the position adjustments static from year-to-year, or does it depend on the actual replacement level that year?

  64. Carl Says:

    btw - Ellsbury and Gardner don't show up in the other's similarity scores. Of course, Ellsbury's scores seem to show a lot of guys who aren't base stealers, which makes me wonder if there is a problem with them.

  65. Daily Links – The Rain Delayed Edition | Red Sox Hub Says:

    [...] are similar players. Steve Lombardi at the Baseball Reference blog puts the two outfielders careers next to each other for easy comparison. Take a look and see who you think has had the better career to [...]

  66. Matt Says:

    I'll take Gardner 9 times out of 10. Gardner has better on base skills, can take a walk, and doesn't need to hit .300 to be valuable. Ellsbury has the same amount of walks in 84 more PA this year, and has .7 less WAR, even though he has 600 more PA.

    Ellsbury @ .280 has a 87 OPS+, Gardner @ .277 has a 106 OPS+

  67. Zachary Says:


    When I'm talking about the minor leagues, I'm talking about their entire minor league careers. Ellsbury put up excellent numbers at every level while Gardner did not, and strong minor league performance in age-appropriate leagues is a good way to identify All-Star potential. Ellsbury's peak performance has simply been higher. The only year Gardner "beat out" Ellsbury was when Gardner was in his second year of AAA and Ellsbury made a stop in Pawtucket on his way up from AA to the Majors.

  68. Fireworks Says:

    I'll take Gardner. His team is 4-1 in the postseason with him. Ellsbury's teams are a measly 4-2. Winning is all that counts.

  69. Mike Says:

    If memory serves me correctly, a former sponsor of the Brett Gardenr page said something like this: "Brett Gardner, what every Red Sox fan wished Jacoby Ellsbury could be". Probably not the exact quote but close. It seems like many Red Sox and Yankee fans overvalue their players.

  70. Paul E Says:

    I guess we'll just have to wait 6-8 years to find out who has the better career...I don't believe AL pitchers are shaking out of abject fear of either guy with a bat in his hand. Both these guys are probably the third best OF'ers on their respective teams.

    How Jeter even opened the season at the top of the order must be tied to some BS star system Girardi and the NYY are tied to. At this point in his career, Jeter's swinging with wet newspapers..... Also, Granderson can be a great hitter at times, but is he a better defensive CF than Gardner?

  71. Dukeofflatbush Says:

    @ 70

    Conceding Jeter to SS this and next year was hard enough to swallow, but totally agree there is no sense to him leading off a power line-up.
    The Yankees are headed for big headaches if they continue to allow fan favorites favors rather than fielding the best team.
    The Redsox had no problem sitting their captain and most poular player in Variteck, when they got V-mart.
    I think the Orioles have sunk to their 15 year drought because of holding on to, playing and paying guys past their prime.

    With Posada, Jeter, A-rod all on the decline, the ever present lurking of a Pettitte comeback, and virtually no farm system, the Yankees are gonna have to eat crow for a few years... and if Mo starts to fail....

  72. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    Here is a fascinating graphic showing Gardner's range in comparison to others, along with some general descriptions about calculating advanced defensive stats.

  73. Aryeh Says:

    Ellsbury. Not even close. The only player in MLB history to win everyone in America a free taco.