When Brian Cashman and the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, 153 thousand dollar contract before the 2014 season, many thought it was a bad idea. After four full seasons, those people were probably right.
At this point in time, Ellsbury’s’ contract has turned into one of the most immovable contracts in baseball.
All offseason, fans have clamored for Ellsbury and his large contract to be traded. The Yankees tried to do this, but to our knowledge, they never got close to a deal. Ellsbury even stated that the Yankees never contacted him about waiving his no-trade clause, confirming the fact that they were never close to dealing him.
With three years, 68 million left, the Yankees probably had no chance at moving this contract. Even if they ate half of it, it probably still would not get a deal done, unless they attached big-time prospects. A 34-year old, injury prone outfielder, who hasn’t posted a fWAR over 2.1 since 2014, is not worth 21 million, let alone 10.
The point of this article though is not to talk about Ellsbury’s decline and ill-advised contract. I’m here to tell you, that if we forget the money, Ellsbury still has value to bring to the Yankees. Let’s start by looking at his numbers from 2017:
2017 Stats: 112 G, 409 PA, (.264/.348/.402), 7 HR, 22 SB, 10.0 BB%, 15.4 K%, .138 ISO, 101 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Despite missing some time with injury, Ellsbury actually had a decent season. Based off wRC+, Ellsbury had his second best season at the plate as a Yankee, behind only his first season in the Bronx. That 101 wRC+ puts him at, essentially, exactly league average as a hitter in 2017.
The thing that stuck out most to me in Ellsburys’ numbers from 2017, was his patience. Ellsbury posted an O-swing% (percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) of 23.1%, the lowest number of his career. This led to a career high walk percentage of 10%, and his highest OBP as a Yankee, .348.
With the power fading away, if Ellsbury can get on base more, that could make him more effective due to his legs.
Although Ellsbury had a better year at the plate, his defense did decline a little bit. Fangraphs has his DRS at -3, while Statcast has his Outs Above Average at +1. What the difference in the metrics tells me, is that Ellsbury was still right around an average centerfielder in 2017.
Although Ellsbury may be a better left fielder at this point in his career, he is still very capable in center.
Lastly, you can’t talk about Ellsbury’s game, without talking about his legs. He’s still an effective baserunner, even at 34. Fangraphs base running metric, BsR, which includes stolen bases, had his 2017 year on the base paths, at 4.7. That means he was 4.7 base running runs above average.
To me, Ellsbury has always been one of the smartest base runners on the Yankees. The numbers, and the eye test, back up the fact that even though he’s lost a step, he’s still very effective on the base paths.
Right now, Ellsbury’s role with the Yankees will be limited to pinch running/hitting opportunities and a start every once in a while. His only shot at more playing time will be, an injury, or an Aaron Hicks regression back to his pre-2017 self. In that case, Ellsbury would slide into the fourth outfielder role, or a platoon with Hicks.
As a Yankee fan, we don’t want either of those things to happen. If one of them did though, I am perfectly happy with Jacoby Ellsbury as my fourth outfielder.
Ellsbury has had the misfortune of his contract, creating this conception with fans that he is a useless player. This is not at all true. He may not be worth 21 million, but he still has value to give, and he’ll look to do just that, in 2018.