Earlier this season, Red Sox CF (and All-Hot Team honoree) Jacoby Ellsbury tied the MLB record for putouts in a game — and set a new club record — with 12 catches in one game. His speed on the basepaths and in the outfield is legend; in his still-young career, he’s stolen home (against the Yankees!), scored from second on a wild pitch, and is on pace to break the team’s club record for steals in a season, a mark that has stood since 1954. (For a jaw-dropping account of Jacoby’s speed in high school, check out this MLB.com article by Ian Browne.)
On the whole, Jacoby has been accepted as an above-average centerfielder, though perhaps not quite as gifted as the man he replaced, Coco “Did you see that catch Coco made?” Crisp. The speed helps — he always seems to be chasing things down out there. And leaping. I seem to recall a lot of leaping.
So imagine my surprise today when, in the course of a quibble with a coworker about the (in)utility of fielding percentage, I noticed that Jacoby Ellsbury has the second-lowest UZR of any major league centerfielder. Now, he’s not half as bad as the worst centerfielder, Vernon Wells, who weighs in at -20.4, but Ellsbury’s -8.5 is shocking. And appalling.
And while last year, in 546.2 innings, his UZR was at least positive (an even 3.0), that’s still nothing to write home about.
I can only conclude that I — along with Boston’s more sober-faced, straight-laced commentators — have been bamboozled, fooled, duped by our own eyes. From now on, I, for one, will be hardening my heart, pursing my lips, and looking past the smoldering eyes and impossibly white teeth (not to mention the washboard abs and oh-so-touchable hair) and observing young Ellsbury’s attempts at defense more carefully.