Not only is Ellsbury trying to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2012 season, but he’s also playing for his next contract — a scenario most Red Sox fans are well aware of. What makes the outfielder’s looming free agency so interesting, though, is that Ellsbury’s track record makes it difficult to figure out what path his career will go down.
There’s the Ellsbury who finished second in MVP voting in 2011, a season in which he compiled 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, a .321 average and 212 hits. There’s the Ellsbury who was sidelined for the better part of two seasons because of injuries. And there’s the Ellsbury who falls somewhere in between the two.
It’s still too early to dictate what exactly 2013 holds, but Ellsbury is already wreaking havoc on the basepaths, and that’s something that has and will continue to be a staple in the 29-year-old’s game.
“The biggest thing is Jake has got a real good feel for key points or trigger points on a given pitcher to be able to pick that out and get a very good jump,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said following Friday’s game. “When he gets a good jump, regardless of whether it’s a decent unloading time by the given pitcher, he feels confident and we’re confident in his base stealing ability.”
Farrell should feel confident. With Ellsbury’s major league-leading 11th stolen base on Friday, the outfielder now has 200 steals in his career. He’s only the third Red Sox player to accomplish that feat, joining the likes of Harry Hooper (300) and Tris Speaker (267), and he did so in the fewest games (604) of the trio.
It isn’t just the thefts, though. Ellsbury’s speed causes all sorts of problems for opposing pitchers and catchers, which is something teammate David Ross knows all too well.
“I remember catching against the Phillies when they had [Jimmy] Rollins and [Shane] Victorino at the top of the order. Now, you’ve got Ellsbury and Victorino at the top of the order. If those guys get on, it’s havoc for a catcher and a pitcher,” Ross said. “Guys are stealing bases. [With a double] that guy’s scoring from first. Little things like that make it hard on a team. It’s a well put together lineup.”
The question is how long Ellsbury will be a part of the Boston lineup. The Red Sox certainly cherish his presence at the top of the order, but his price tag will continue to rise if he sustains his early-season success for the entire year.
“When he’s healthy, he’s one of the more dynamic players in the big leagues,”Farrell said. “Whether it’s on the base paths or the ability for extra-base potential in the box, he’s doing that again.”
In a few months, the Red Sox will have a huge decision to make regarding Ellsbury’s future. For now, the Red Sox will ride the wave, and it’s a fun one for them to ride.