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Jacoby Ellsbury’s historically amazing season

Posted by Andy on August 18, 2011

Jacoby Ellsbury is just killing it this year. He's already got 22 HR, 78 RBI, and 87 runs.

Here the only leadoff hitters (minimum 100 games out of the #1 spot) to reach the same totals as Ellsbury, along with a 130 OPS+:

Jacoby Ellsbury 22 137 78 87 2011 27 BOS 120 547 496 155 31 2 39 78 31 11 .313 .368 .516 .884 *8/D
Grady Sizemore 33 133 90 101 2008 25 CLE 157 745 634 170 39 5 98 130 38 5 .268 .374 .502 .876 *8/D
Hanley Ramirez 29 145 81 125 2007 23 FLA 154 706 639 212 48 6 52 95 51 14 .332 .386 .562 .948 *6/D
Alfonso Soriano 46 135 95 119 2006 30 WSN 159 728 647 179 41 2 67 160 41 17 .277 .351 .560 .911 *7
Darin Erstad 25 137 100 121 2000 26 ANA 157 747 676 240 39 6 64 82 28 8 .355 .409 .541 .951 *78D/3
Craig Biggio 22 143 81 146 1997 31 HOU 162 744 619 191 37 8 84 107 47 10 .309 .415 .501 .916 *4/D
Brady Anderson 50 156 110 117 1996 32 BAL 149 687 579 172 37 5 76 106 21 8 .297 .396 .637 1.034 *8/D
Kirby Puckett 31 141 96 119 1986 26 MIN 161 723 680 223 37 6 34 99 20 12 .328 .366 .537 .903 *8
Brian Downing 28 132 84 109 1982 31 CAL 158 725 623 175 37 2 86 58 2 1 .281 .368 .482 .850 *7
Bobby Bonds 32 151 85 93 1975 29 NYY 145 626 529 143 26 3 89 137 30 17 .270 .375 .512 .888 *98D/7
Bobby Bonds 39 142 96 131 1973 27 SFG 160 738 643 182 34 4 87 148 43 17 .283 .370 .530 .900 *9/8
Bobby Bonds 26 134 78 134 1970 24 SFG 157 745 663 200 36 10 77 189 48 10 .302 .375 .504 .879 *98
Tommy Harper 31 146 82 104 1970 29 MIL 154 692 604 179 35 4 77 107 38 16 .296 .377 .522 .899 *54/789
Eddie Joost 23 137 81 128 1949 33 PHA 144 682 525 138 25 3 149 80 2 1 .263 .429 .453 .883 *6
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/17/2011.

Through 121 Red Sox games, Ellsbury is on pace for 116 runs, 104 RBI, and 29 HR. The only guy on the list to match those totals was Brady Anderson in 1996, and he had the benefit of 43 games batting second, 50 homers, and the possibility of a steroid boost.

Aside from Ellsbury, only Anderson, Puckett, and Sizemore played primarily center field.

He's also younger than the median age of the list above and will probably only get better.

140 Responses to “Jacoby Ellsbury’s historically amazing season”

  1. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @95/ Jbird says: "@93. youre right on with ruth's impact. '20 wasnt the breakout imo; it was the game changer. '19 was the breakout. either way, im sure the composition of the ball was changing due to owners' appreciation for the revenues which george h's power talent created and the desire to not just limit those revenues to when george played..."

    Jbird, I do not think that Ruth's 1920 HR explosion had much to do with a(n alleged) juiced ball introduced in 1920; I think it was mainly his going from a _very_ tough HR park for Ruth in 1919 (especially for lefties), Fenway Park, to a much better HR park in 1920 in The Polo Grounds.

    In 1919, Ruth had only 9 HR at home, but 20 on the road. However, he hit 4 HR in 11 games at the Polo Grounds. If you extrapolate the new "home" HR totals for the Polo Grounds in 1920, you'd get 25-30. So if you simply add the projected new home and road HRs together, you get 45-50 HR simply by changing home parks. Add that the schedule went from 140 games in 1919 to 154 in 1920, and 54 HRs no longer seems so unexpected.

    Ruth still had a gigantifc advantage over almost all other batters by usually holding the bat at the very end, and swinging hard at almost every pitch, as opposed to the chocking-up and place-hitting style emphasized. That's probably why it took years into the 1920s for other hitters to catch up to his HR totals.

    Another often overlooked factor is that in 1920 the spitball was made illegal (some spitball pitchers were "grandfathered" in), so batters usually had a much cleaner ball to swing at.

  2. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @97/ Andy, I apologize, I did not mean to criticize, only to point out how different Ellsbury and Paps are in personality. If you mean "that both guys were getting a lot of attention for off-the-field stuff", I'd certainly agree with that.

    Also, I'm an avid Red Sox follower, and I honestly do not remember Ellsbury acting and making statements last year that he was already a superstar. That's not quite the same thing as "wild behavior", but I understand where you were going, and why Red Sox fans would be irritated.

  3. Andy Says:

    Lawrence #102, no worries! I didn't take it as criticism, just as a correct pointing-out of my sloppy language in describing the similarity.

    I wish I could point to a specific reference to Ellsbury--my recollection is that there were a few things he said in that stretch run and playoff run in his first season when he was very impressive.

  4. Mike L Says:

    Andy I failed. But you shouldn't think that I hold you in lower esteem.

  5. Paul E Says:

    @ 94 Jaybird:
    Check out Easter's minor league stats after being released

  6. Neil L. Says:

    @90 @91
    Jbird, don't be a stranger in BR from now on.

  7. jbird Says:

    @101. truly, a lot to take into consideration. so much history. can we tell how many of ruth's 1918 and 1919 homers were out of the park?

    @105. wow! love that '62 season for triple a rochester at age 46.

  8. jbird Says:

    @106. thanks, neil. i been watchin y'all have the best discussions for a hot minute ('08) and been lookin up stats since i first found br in '06/'07-ish. the mlb site was my preferred in the early but the completeness and streamlinedness of the data which was presented has strongly established br as the leader in my book. i'm not the tech savviest and i dont know much about the sabermetrics which are being referred to these days, so ive been hesitant to join in. but i love baseball. and i figure y'all'll initiate me, right? onward. be well. play ball :O)

  9. John Autin Says:

    I like the cut of that Jbird's jib -- first time out, and he goes all in!

    Couple more y'all's, Jbird, and I'll be calling you my Cajun bro'. 🙂

  10. John Autin Says:

    @88, Andy -- After reading that number, I'm not sure if you're praising Ellsbury's breakout year, or ripping him for not doing it sooner. Maybe a little of both?

    I don't really follow ballclub penumbrae outside of my Mets, so I don't have a take on Ellsbury's maturity or maturation. I didn't even know about the player/club tension over his injury last year.

    Still, as a general matter, I would defend him against the implicit charge that his fine play this year is motivated by the whiff of big money 2 years away. I mean, I'm sure most players are motivated by money, and why not? -- 'most everyone else is. But as far as cleaning up his act (or however you'd term it) mainly to be ready for the big score, I don't buy it.

    I think a lot of highly gifted people have to go through a difficult maturation process, especially in team endeavors. If Ellsbury has tamed himself somewhat this year, I would guess it has more to do with a sense that his chance at stardom was slipping away -- still a sort of "payoff" motivation, but more generalized than the idea of a big-money contract -- as well as the determination to redeem a disappointing 2010 season, on both a team and individual basis.

    Again, I don't really know anything about Ellsbury's personality or past behavior. But the Red Sox seem to have a very good organization, with an expectation of success and a strong team spirit. It wouldn't be surprising if a young man such as he -- who tasted not only championship champagne but minor folk-hero status within 4 months of his MLB debut -- were to go through a trying period some time later, and come out of it with a new appreciation for the wisdom of his elders and for his good fortune to be where he is. If anything like that has happened with Ellsbury, I say, good for him.

  11. jbird Says:

    i expect more of the same from ells going forward. he is in prime and take away '10, his improvement appears very natural and acceptable. gaining 20 home run power proficiency at 27 is not so unreasonable and i would not be surprised to a few more 20+ homer seasons, even a potential low 30s season if his advancement is genuine and continues, especially since he's setting up his beltre, i mean contract year.

    @109. its a virginny y'all, not a looziana y'all :O)

  12. Neil L. Says:

    @108 @111
    Jbird, your stream-of-consciousness posts are, well ...... refreshing.

    Don't be intimidated, but John Autin is an English major, a wordsmith, and a punctuation expert. 🙂

    This is not a gratuitous question, Jbird, because I am Canadian and honestly don't know the answer, but was Virginia part of the South, the North, or half-in-half during the Civil War?

    (The y'all's prompted my non-baseball question.)

  13. Mike L Says:

    Neil, not to step in here, but Virginia split. "Virginia" went South, and native son Robert E. Lee headed the Confederate Army, after turning down the post for the Union. Richmond ended up the Capitol of the Confederacy. But the western part of Virginia-away from the tidewaters, up in the mountains, broke away to form "West Virgina". Jbird, are you a Cavalier, or a Mountaineer?

  14. Neil L. Says:

    Mike L., thanks. Ahhh, now I get the historical basis of the NCAA college nicks. Two states came out of one.

  15. Andy Says:

    I assumed that Neil's question about Virginia was a joke since it split up. Interesting how times change. If one guessed today which state--VA or WV--was the one that fought against slavery...

  16. Mike L Says:

    @115 Andy. The South was solidly-almost universally Democratic from post- Reconstruction Civil War until the 60's. The first serious break was in 1948, when the Dixiecrats broke with Truman and went for (then Democratic) Sentator Strom Thurmond. By the sixties, and the Democratic Party's association with anti Viet Nam demonstrations and the Civil Rights movement, the Democratic hold on the South was starting to break up. Virginia went with the rest of the South-it moved to the GOP (at one point, its entire congressional delegation was Republican). West Virgina stayed reliably Democratic (of course, Robert Byrd, long time senator, had been a Klan member). In more recent elections, Virginia turned more purple. There are a number of prominent southern Republicans who were former Democrats (including Rick Perry, Strom Thurmond, Richard Shelby, John Connelly). The odd thing is what you hit on- that the demographics and topography that led aristocratic Virgina South and hardscrabble West Virginia North in 1861 have, in recent years, now seem to point in the opposite direction.

    Politics/history and baseball are the world's best two hobbies.

  17. Neil L. Says:

    I won't embarrass myself any further, Andy, by trying to guess the answer to your question, but please bear in mind that in Canadian schools we learn as much about British and European history as American.

    We have had the English-French conflict as part of our history, but never Canadians at war with fellow-countrymen, as in the USA.

    If I asked you a question about the outcome of the Riel rebellion of the 1870's in Canada, would you know the answer? It is an event in our history somewhat comparable to the civil war.

    My point is, that Americans probably know as little about the history of their neighbours as we do about yours.

  18. Mike L Says:

    @117-Neil, none of us meant any harm. And, I'd say you are correct-Americans are taught very little about Canada, beyond Henry Hudson, French and Indian War, Eskimos, and gold in the Yukons. Peace offering from Churchill: "Canada is the linchpin of the English-speaking world. Canada, with those relations of friendly, affectionate intimacy with the United States on the one hand and with her unswerving fidelity to the British Commonwealth and the Motherland on the other, is the link which joins together these great branches of the human family, a link which, spanning the oceans, brings the continents into their true relation and will prevent in future generations any growth of division between the proud and the happy nations of Europe and the great countries which have come into existence in the New World."

  19. Johnny Twisto Says:

    The South was solidly-almost universally Democratic from post- Reconstruction Civil War until the 60's.

    At least in the U.S. Senate, it lasted even into the '70s and '80s, when the segregationists who had been in office from the '50s or '60s finally retired. It really is incredible how there were essentially *no* Republican Senators from the Confederate states for 100 years.

    The Democrats dominated Congress for a good 50 years, but they were practically two parties -- the South, and the New Dealers.

    I hate politics, but I find the history of it very interesting. I wish I knew more about it.

  20. Jbird Says:

    @112. tanks, neil. hope ja and others will not find my casual nature offensive as i mean it not to be.

    @113. bein from virginia proper, ah guess ima cav, right.

    @115 & 116. if youve ever been to either or both, it does, in fact, seem a little bass ackwards. or is that back asswards? ack basswards?

    @116. thanks for the '48 to present data. news to me.

    @118. Louis Riel. Got him at Batoche. In that decisive battle, after running out of ammo, they (Riel and the Metis) fired "sharp objects and small rocks from their guns." What fighting spirit!

    quick parting joke.
    Preface: I love west virginia and west virginianers.

    What do west virginianers do for halloween?

    Pump kin.

    Couldnt help myself. hope at least one person laughs :O)

  21. Kyle Says:

    All those guys who were saying that they'd easily choose Gardner over Ellsbury either huff a lot of paint or don't see how awesome he is. He's got far more power, more speed, and hits for a better average.

    He's established himself as one of those rare players with speed, power, and his defense has gotten much better. He's actually more deserving of the MVP than the other Red Sox being mentioned(Gonzalez's homeruns are becoming rarer and rarer, Pedrioa is underrated, but he's not the MVP of the league or the Red Sox even.) Verlander is now the MVP as far as I'm concerned. No pitcher has had to win EVERY outing to stop losing streaks. And he's also the easy Cy Young choice over Weaver, Sabathia and Beckett now.

    As for the arguing about whether or not Ellsbury made statements that he thought he was a superstar, he once said that he expected much more out of himself early in his career, and also talked about how last season(being hurt and everything else)would be an aberration. Maybe not those exact words, but he showed real confidence and wanted to prove that the doubters who thought he was done were wrong. Much like how Beckett came back and proved everyone wrong that had doubts about him.

  22. Andy Says:

    By the way, Voomo's comment way back at 31 that Rickey's 1985 was better than any of the seasons on the list here--I tend to agree with that, actually. When I wrote a column for the NYT after Steinbrenner died, I noted that the 1985 Henderson season was the best single-season WAR total for any player during Steinbrenner's ownership tenure. That alone suggests it must have been pretty damn good....better than any Yankee in the 70s, any Mattingly or Winfield season, anybody in the 90s, or A-rod, etc.

  23. Andy Says:

    @120, I laughed, yes.

    @ Neil, I wasn't trying to make fun of you regarding Virginia. I don't expect anybody not from the US to know anything about US history, just as we Americans tend to know very little about the history of other countries, as Mike points out. My comment was only meant to strike a chord with those familiar with the history of Virginia and West Virginia, as it would be quite an ironic query for those who should be familiar with the history.

    Here's a pre-Civil War map showing the two states combined as they originally were:

  24. Neil L. Says:

    Thanks, Andy. No offense taken.

  25. John Autin Says:

    I'm glad we agree that Rickey's historically astounding '85 season -- one of eighty 10-WAR batter seasons in modern history (and one of just two in that decade) -- was better than anything in the table. 🙂

    As Bill James wrote at the time, Mattingly won the MVP that year mainly for his historic 145 RBI, but Rickey's 146 runs were waaaaaay more historically significant (not to mention their greater win value). He was the 1st to reach 140 runs since Ted Williams in '49, the 1st other than TW since 1938. Considering the total package Rickey put up that year -- .314/.419/.516, 24 HRs, 72 RBI, 80 for 90 in steals, and excellent defense (2nd in the league in dWAR) -- it's comical that Mattingly took the hardware.

    But at least the voters got it right when Rickey nailed his 2nd 10-WAR season in 1990, making him one of 14 hitters with multiple 10-WAR years.

  26. Richard Chester Says:


    Let's not forget that 56 of Henderson's runs scored came from Mattingly's RBIs.

  27. Andy Says:

    And let's not forget that 56 of Mattingly's RBIs came from runs that Henderson scored.

    Thanks to those of you who have continued to read the comments on this post!

    Your reward is this piece of info: this week was the most-commented ever on this blog with well over a thousand comments spread amongst the posts by me, Steve, Raphy, Sean, Neil, and JA.

  28. Neil L. Says:

    Andy, great news about the popularity of BR.

    Is there any way of knowing if it (BR) is becoming more "influential" among the great, unwashed masses of on-line, baseball fans?

    The quality and edginess of the blogs have something to do with the volume of responses as well!

  29. Mike L Says:

    Andy, @127, I guess we can all say "our work is done here..."

  30. Andy Says:

    Mike @129, funny I think it's just beginning.

    Neil @128, your namesake has detailed logs on pageviews for the blog and for the site as a whole, so we have a good sense of how much it has grown. The blog took a giant leap forward last year and has continued to grow this year in terms of pageviews, but of course can always grow more. My sense is that it is still generally "preaching to the choir", i.e. it is read mostly by like-minded folks who think about stats in a similar way to the bloggers. It may never grow beyond that since it's not really designed to appeal to the average baseball fan.

  31. Mike L Says:

    Andy, I'm a little more optimistic than you are. As long as you can keep finding fresh things to write about and different takes on things, people will read it, and suggest others read it. Keep going.

  32. Andy Says:

    Mike, that's actually what I meant--as more and more people read the blog, it means we have more and more work to do to keep providing good content.

  33. Mike L Says:

    Andy, I was serious. I read a lot of political stuff, left and right, in the Times, WSJ, Washington Post, Barron's, etc. Most of it is written by very smart knowledgeable people (regardless of their ideological bents) who write really well. The forums that follow are almost exclusively junk-people ranting at each other-no new ideas or different insights, repetition of the same accusations, blah blah. There's much less of that in this blog-here there are strong opinions expressed, but the writers find data to back it up, sometimes even things that are counter-intuitive.

  34. Neil L. Says:

    ".... it is read mostly by like-minded folks...."
    Andy, BR does have its little spats, though, from time to time. 🙁

    Factor in to this comment my suck-up tendencies, but I believe recruiting John Autin was important this year.

    And, at risk of embarrassing him if he reads this, Kahuna Tuna seems to have a nice blend of accurate research, sense of humor and witing ability also.

  35. Joe Mauer and catchers splitting time in right field » Baseball-Reference Blog » Blog Archive Says:

    [...] How about Brian Downing showing up on another unusual list? Recently he showed up on the list of great seasons by a leadoff hitter. [...]

  36. Detroit Michael Says:

    I don't recall there being any evidence that Brady Anderson used steroids. Obviously, that means we don't know whether he did (in 1996 or in other years) but I don't think we want to start caveating expressly every seasonal performance since Jose Canseco entered the majors.

  37. Jbird Says:


    Can you please tell me why Jack Fournier's given name is listed as John Frank and when I have uncovered several materials with ranges from pre-'27 to 1986 indicating his real name is more likely Jacques. Given his last name, that wouldn't be so unbelievable. Tell me what you think.

  38. Jbird Says:

    I've actually found materials telling us it's Jean Jacques Fournier.

    I also asked a question on a blog which went unanswered. When and for what reason do we not respect the officially released baseball records of the day with regard to Keeler hitting 213 for .381 (officially released by NL President Nicholas Young) in 1898?

    I know baseball rules have changed significantly as time has passed and so have a few stats (Cobb's career average, Hack's disputed RBI, et al). Though, I'm beginning to see that the most ancient history of the game is not accurately archived. If you ever decide to spend resources in this area, please consider including me on the team. In the meantime, anything you can provide me with will be appreciated tremendously as my wheels are turning and I'm thirsting for the knowledge.

  39. Jbird Says:

    There is so great a deal of information available confirming his name is Jacques that it really seems as though "John Frank" is just something someone made up to fill in an empty blank. Do you have references for the information in your databases? I would love to know the source on that one. Anyway... looking forward to hearing what you are able to dig up.

  40. Andy Says:

    Jbird, I don't know the answer to the Fournier question. I'm sure that Sean has used biographical data from some legitimate source, but that doesn't mean there wasn't an error. My suggestion would be to ask a question via the feedback link.

    As for old-time stats, I know Sean handles them on a case-by-case basis, again going with whatever the best information available is. I think he often relies on Retrosheet, as those guys put in countless hours researching historical boxscores in order to try to get it right.

    Sorry I don't have more concrete answers!