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.

11 Responses to “Jacoby Ellsbury Secretly Sucks at Defense”

  1. Just stumbled upon your site today. Great stuff… I wrote a piece on that Digital Eyes Times article last week. The technology is reaching unheard of status now. It’s a great tool to have but you still need smart scouting to judge intangibles etc..

  2. I’m not surprised… I saw him lose a game in Anaheim single handedly with his glove (although Papi leaving 12 runners on that same day didn’t help, I’m sure). He’s afraid of the wall and often makes bad reads. When his speed makes up for a bad read, he can make some spectacular catches, so he looks better than he is. Hopefully it’s something he can learn, he does have the raw tools to be a great defender.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Thanks for the comments, guys. We had an interesting debate about this on Facebook today. Reactions ranged from outright disbelief (“I am willing to bet that there is a glitch somewhere in the calculation of the statistic”) to a “pop gun arm” and taking bad routes to the ball to getting bad jumps. Frankly I don’t know enough about math to know if this is so, but one person suggested that Jacoby’s a league with some great defensive CF’s which skews the stats because the “average” fielder is so good.

    Got any thoughts, more advanced stat-heads?

  4. Sarah, don’t forget his perfect eyebrows!!!

    I refuse to believe any of this. Jacoby is made of rainbows and dreams, dammit!

  5. Lyndsay says:

    Dennis Eckersley: “he’ll get a Golden Glove one of these days, don’t ya think?”

    – an almost-exact quote on Ellsbury during tonight’s game

  6. Sarah Green says:

    Lyndsay, did you notice tonight that the Eck seems to have gotten over his man-crush on the Buck? It’s almost like he’s already said goodbye…

  7. he’s been over it ever since Danny “The Gas” Bard came into the picture. watch him comment on Bard – it harkens back to his excited post-game tributes to the Buck of spring ’08.

  8. speaking of Eck – I may be alone in this regard, but I think he and Orsillo make the best duo since Don&Remy. he just provides Don with a wealth of material to work with. he’s hilarious, intentionally or not. in fact I wouldn’t mind if he stayed in the booth once RemDawg comes back!

  9. Sarah Green says:

    Lyndsay, I agree – having Eck is FABULOUS. He’s far and away the best commentator of the 30 or so subs they’ve had this season. I am so sad I missed the “Masturbate” gaffe though.

    And yes, his man-love for Bard knows no bounds. How forlorn Buck must feel – cast aside like an old shoe!

  10. Juan Pierre-itis. He tends to take some weird routes to balls. Doesn’t help that Jason Bay isn’t cleaning him up at all.

  11. Sarah Green says:

    I agree Joe R. In the time since this post went up I’ve made it my business to take a close look at Jacoby. A very close, penetrating look. It’s been hard, unpleasant work but someone had to do it. And weird routes to balls seems to be in evidence, yes.

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