Jacoby Ellsbury

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Jacoby McCabe Ellsbury

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Biographical Information[edit]

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury made his big league debut in June 2007. He is believed to be the first major leaguer of Navajo descent.

Amateur career[edit]

Ellsbury was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 23rd round of the 2002 amateur draft but did not sign. Moving on to college at Oregon State University, he hit .330/~.409/.510 as a freshman. He joined Travis Buck and Matt Sutton on the Baseball America Freshman All-America second team in the outfield. As a sophomore, Ellsbury improved to .352/~.438/.459. He made the All-Pacific-10 Conference outfield alongside Buck, Brent Lillibridge and others. As a junior, Jacoby hit .406/.495/.582 with 26 steals in 34 tries. He again was a Pac-10 All-Conference outfielder and split Pac-10 Player of the Year honors with Trevor Crowe. He helped OSU to its first College World Series berth in 53 years. Ellsbury had beaten Crowe for the batting title by three points and trailed Pac-10 steal leaders Crowe and Buck by one. He was 20th in NCAA Division I in average. Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association both named him as a first-team NCAA Division I All-American outfielder.

Minor league career[edit]

He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. He was signed by scout John Booher for $1.4 million and made his pro debut that year with the Lowell Spinners, hitting .317/.418/.432 with 23 stolen bases while only being caught three times. He finished one stolen base behind New York-Penn League leader Jose Constanza. Baseball America rated him the NYPL's #6 prospect, sandwiched between Radhames Liz and teammate Jed Lowrie. He began 2006 with the Wilmington Blue Rocks, where he hit .299/.379/.418 and swiped 25 bases in 34 tries over 61 games before being promoted to the Portland Sea Dogs. He made only one error, fielding .994, for Wilmington. With Portland, he hit .308/.387/.434 and stole 16 bases in 24 tries and 50 games. Following the season, he was rated by Baseball America as the Red Sox system's top prospect. He had led their minor leaguers in 2006 in hits (149), triples (10) and steals. Baseball America had picked him that year as the #2 prospect in the Carolina League and #7 in the Eastern League, right behind Adam Lind. They additionally rated him as the best baserunner, best defensive outfielder and fastest baserunner in the Carolina League.

Ellsbury began 2007 with Portland, where he hit .452/.518/.644 with 10 doubles and 8 steals (in 9 tries) in 17 games before being promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox. With Pawtucket, he batted .277/.352/.354 and 21 steals in 26 tries. In 50 games, he scored 36 runs. Ellsbury was named to the USA roster for the Futures Game but he was called up by Boston in June and made his big league debut on June 30th. He was called up in part due to a thumb injury to CF Coco Crisp. In his first MLB at-bat, Ellsbury grounded out against Robinson Tejeda in the second inning. His first hit was a single an inning later.

Matt Tolbert took Ellsbury's spot on the Futures Game roster, but when US outfielder Cameron Maybin was hurt, Ellsbury did get to play in the 2007 Futures Game after all despite having been up in the majors so recently. Ellsbury went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts as the leadoff man and left fielder for the USA.

Overall, Ellsbury hit .298/.360/.380 for Pawtucket with 66 runs in 87 games and 33 stolen bases in 39 attempts. Despite his limited time in the International League, he tied Darnell McDonald for second in stolen bases, just one behind leader Bernie Castro.

Major League Career[edit]

Ellsbury batted .353/.394/.509 and was successful in all nine steal attempts in his 33 games for the 2007 Boston Red Sox, scoring 20 runs. He had a 131 OPS+. He continued to shine in the postseason. In the 2007 World Series, his four hits in Game 3 tied the World Series record for rookies, set by Freddie Lindstrom in 1924 and Joe Garagiola in 1946. He had taken over for Coco Crisp in center field midway through the postseason and never looked back. In his first full season in 2008, he led the American League with 50 stolen bases while hitting .280 and scoring 98 runs. He hit .333 in the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, but went 0 for 14 as the Red Sox were upset in seven games by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 ALCS and was benched as the series progressed. In 2009, he did even better than in his first full season, with 70 steals - tops in the majors - and a batting line of .301/.355/.415. He also led the AL with 10 triples and scored 94 runs as the team's lead-off hitter. He went 3 for 12 as the Red Sox lost to the Angels in the ALDS. But just when he was establishing himself as one of the bright young stars of the league, he lost almost the entire 2010 season to an injury, being limited to 18 games, during which he hit only .192.

Ellsbury was arguably the best position player in the American League in 2011, as he finished second behind only pitcher Justin Verlander in voting for the MVP Award. He had his best season that year, hitting .321 with 46 doubles and 32 homers, scoring 119 runs and driving in 105. His 363 [total bases]] led the AL that season. He did not run as much as before, however, with only 39 steals. Unsurprisingly, he was named the AL's Comeback Player of the Year, but the season ended on a sour note as the Red Sox were overtaken by Tampa Bay for the wild card spot on the last day of the season. 2012 was a disappointment however, as he injured a rib early in the year, and got re-injured when he tried to return too soon. He ended up playing only 74 games, with a batting average of .271, 4 homers and 26 RBIs, a far cry from the previous season. Without his presence in the line-up, the Red Sox struggled all year, finishing last in the AL East in a year of turmoil and dissent.

On May 30, 2013, Ellsbury set a franchise record by stealing five bases in a 9-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He already owned the team record of four, which he shared with Jerry Remy, and was the first major leaguer to record five steals in a game since Carl Crawford in 2009. He was having a great season, leading the majors with 52 steals and the Red Sox with 89 runs scored when he injured his right foot on August 28th; it took a while for the injury to be diagnosed as a compression fracture, forcing him to miss most of September. He was back before the end of the season, though, making his return on September 25th after having missed 20 days of action. he ended the season at .298/.355/.426 in 134 games, leading the major leagues with 52 stolen bases; however, the time missed meant his 92 runs were only 7th in the AL, while his 8 triples placed him 3rd. He started every single game the Sox played in the postseason, batting lead-off every time; he was excellent in the role, with 22 hits, 7 walks, 14 runs and 6 stolen bases as the Red Sox won the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. However, he shocked Red Sox Nation on December 3rd when, in a move reminiscent of a very similar player, Johnny Damon, he joined the enemy by signing a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees, worth $153 million. The deal prompted a lot of skepticism, given Ellbury's injury history, the fact that he was already 30 years old and was likely to lose his biggest asset, his speed, and finally because the Yankees already had a very similar player in CF Brett Gardner.

On July 28, 2015, Jacoby became only the 6th player in major league history to reach base twice in one game on catcher's interference; he was actually the first player to have two different catchers sin against him, as Robinson Chirinos and Tomas Telis of the Texas Rangers both got charged with the rare violation. He had a solid first half that year, hitting .318 with 32 runs in 42 games, but in the second half, he slumped to .220. He finished at .257 with 7 homers and 33 RBIs, with 66 runs and 21 stolen bases, very disappointing numbers given how much fate the Yankees were placing in him. He was benched in favor of Chris Young for the Wild Card Game against the Houston Astros, then came on as a pinch-hitter for Gardner in the 8th and popped out in the 3-0 loss, a disappointing ending to a disappointing season.

In 2016, he continued to display his rare mastery of the catcher's interference, as on July 20th, he reached first base via this play for the 9th time that season, breaking the single-season record held by Roberto Kelly since 1992. He was second on the all-time list in the category, with 23, behind Pete Rose's 29. He added three more instances later in the season to increase the single-season record to 12, and to move his career total to 26. His 12 times were more than any team had ever accumulated in a season until then (the 1992 Yankees on which Kelly had played had set the mark with 10), and only 10 major leaguers had compiled as many in their entire career! He played 148 games that season, hitting .263 with 9 homers and 56 RBIs. He also scored 71 runs and stole 20 bases. On May 24, 2017, he crashed into the center field wall while making a spectacular catch that denied extra bases to the first batter of the game, Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals. He fell to the ground on his back and held on to the ball, but had to leave the game at the end of the inning because of a concussion and sprained neck. He was placed on the concussion list immediately. He was hitting .281 in 39 games and was having his best offensive season since his first year with New York. He had already missed four games at the start of the month following a previous crash into the wall. He was set to return on June 1st, but symptoms returned when he began exercising and taking batting practice and the Yankees shut him down from all baseball activities to allow for a full recovery. He returned on June 26th, which came at a propitious time for the Yankees, as it was around that time that they lost Aaron Hicks who had been brilliant in filling out for him during his absence, to the point that it was far from a foregone conclusion that he would get his old job back. On June 27th, he tied Pete Rose's all-time mark for reaching base on catcher's interference when he benefited from the relatively rare play for the 29th time, tipping the mitt of Chicago White Sox catcher Kevan Smith. He became the sole owner of the record on September 11th, when Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos was charged with the offence. He finished the season at .264 in 112 games, with 65 runs, 7 homers and 39 RBIs. He saw only limited action in the postseason, however, going a combined 0 for 9 with 1 runs scored.

Ellsbury's 2018 season was completely wiped out with injuries, as he went down in spring training with a combination of an oblique strain and a sore back. He was already on the 60-day disabled list in early August when he had surgery on his hip, officially putting him out for the rest of the year. The Yankees did not miss him, however, as they had acquired Giancarlo Stanton in a trade in the off-season, and with Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge also on hand, there would have been little playing time available for him in any case. He then also missed all of 2019; this time, arguably, the Yankees could have used him as they were beset by a tidal wave of injuries, but they managed to overcome these with various jerry-built solutions that worked better than what a healthy Ellsbury would possibly had brought in had he been healthy. On November 20th, the Yankees finally bit the bullet and cut him, swallowing the final year of his contract. According to media reports, however, the team was going to attempt to avoid paying the $26 million remaining on his contract by claiming that Ellsbury had violated its terms by receiving outside medical treatment without the club's permission. The MLBPA filed a grievance against the Yankees on December 19th, claiming that the Yankees were unilaterally attempting to turn the contract into a non-guaranteed one. The grievance would likely need to be decided by an arbitrator. Ironically, were the Yankees to lose, the $21.1 million due him in 2020 would make him the second highest-paid player in the majors, only behind another player cut with a year left on a large guaranteed contract, P Wei-Yin Chen, set to earn $22 million. All active players with a higher annual salary had seen their earnings scaled back due to the abbreviated season caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the highest earners going from $36 million to $13.3 million, falling behind underperformers like Chen and Ellsbury who collected their full salary while sitting at home.

Sources: 2003-2007 Baseball Almanacs, Soxprospects.com bio

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL All-Star (2011)
  • 2011 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • AL Gold Glove Winner (2011)
  • AL Silver Slugger Award Winner (2011)
  • AL Total Bases Leader (2011)
  • AL Triples Leader (2009)
  • 3-time AL Stolen Bases Leader (2008, 2009 & 2013)
  • 20-Home Runs Seasons: 1 (2011)
  • 30-Home Runs Seasons: 1 (2011)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 1 (2011)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (2011)
  • 200 Hits Seasons: 1 (2011)
  • 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 3 (2008, 2009 & 2013)
  • Won two World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2013

Records Held[edit]

  • Most times reaching base on catcher's interference, career, 31
  • Most times reaching base on catcher's interference, season, 12, 2016

Further Reading[edit]

  • Ted Berg: "Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury set an extremely obscure record", For the Win!, USA Today Sports, July 20, 2016. [1]
  • Pete Caldera: "His Yankees tenure now over, Jacoby Ellsbury's deal among worst in team history", USA Today, November 20, 2019. [2]

Related Sites[edit]