That was as Boston's center fielder. Let's see what he can do in the comfortable shadows of the Monster in 2010.
His defense has been the talk of the winter with Gold Glover Mike Cameron pegged to play center field for the defense-oriented club next season. Those who watched the highlight-reel catches that Ellsbury made in center last season are up in arms about the youngster moving to left.
The shake-up in the outfield won't just benefit the Red Sox defensively, but offensively as well. It will give Ells — their leadoff hitter — the chance to focus more with his stick and speed at the top of the order.
There's less pressure playing left field, an less of a physical toll. Few outfield positions in the major leagues are shallower or narrower than left field in Fenway Park. Most of Ellsbury's catches will require him only to range a few steps in or to his right. Anything other than that is either a foul ball, infield pop-up, wall-ball or future property of Cameron's webbing.
Playing left field rather than center can keep a player's legs fresh and offensive game in tip-top shape. Here in the AL East, we've seen it happen before.
Consider the case of Carl Crawford, who came up in the Tampa Bay organization in 2003 as a potential center fielder. But a permanent move to left field, where he's now played for over 1,000 games, has resulted in incredible career speed numbers, including 92 triples and 362 steals by the age of 28.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein cited the Crawford switch as evidence that moving Ellsbury to left field would help him out as well.
"The thought being, Cameron has played center most of his career and he's got those long strides," the Red Sox' GM told the Providence Journal earlier this month. "Ells, kind of like Carl Crawford, has the short burst of speed, and I think doing it like this, we're going to have a spectacular outfield."
NESN baseball analyst Peter Gammons compared the move to one a Hall of Famer made early in his career, too.
"I remember in ’84 or ’85, when the Yankees got Rickey Henderson in a trade with the A’s, I was doing a story on him in beautiful downtown Winter Haven," Gammons told WEEI.com. "He said to me, ‘The beating you take when you steal 70 to 100 bases a year is incredible.' Now, with Rickey, he went into the bag so hard, head first, he was beating up his hands and legs. He said, ‘It’s really hard to play center field and run 100 times a year.’ Barry Bonds has told me the same thing. That’s why he wasn’t playing center field in Pittsburgh. He was playing left field."
You would think, of course, that the fastest outfielders should stick to the toughest and deepest part of the field. On some level, that's true, but there are plenty of counterexamples. Speedster Nyjer Morgan played mostly left field during his time in Pittsburgh, and Juan Pierre played plenty of left in L.A. Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki has spent the majority of time in right field for the Mariners — where, ironically, Cameron played center field during the three seasons they shared in Seattle.
Check out the offensive numbers on these guys — they're putting their speed to good use.
The Red Sox and their fans are eager to see how shifting Ellsbury to left field will impact his offense and, in doing so, steer the lineup into a run-producing frenzy. No matter what spot Ellsbury takes on the field, his offensive future is only getting brighter, and this move may just speed up that process.