Analyzing Jacoby Ellsbury’s Hot Streak

Two years removed from an MVP-caliber season and coming off an injury-shortened campaign in 2012, Jacoby Ellsbury was a popular value-pick for many fantasy owners in the fourth-or-fifth rounds. His average draft position was 43.7 this spring, which placed him ahead of guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Holliday. He was expected to produce, so when he hit .241/.303/.335 in his first 44 games this season, many owners were understandably frustrated.

Since that arbitrary point of May 20, though, Ellsbury has been one of the top-producing fantasy outfielders in all of baseball, torching opposing pitchers with a .382/.446/.532 slash line. In fact, in the last 30 days, he’s been the fifth-best overall player in ESPN leagues. Only Chris Davis and his home run binge has prevented him from being the number one fantasy outfielder in the past 30 days.

Many owners are not necessarily wondering if this hot streak is legitimate. It’s ridiculous to expect Ellsbury to continue hitting at almost a .400 clip throughout the remainder of the year. Instead, some are beginning to wonder if this impressive stretch at the plate is an indicator that the 2011 version of Jacoby Ellsbury is lurking around the corner. Because that would be a game-changer and perhaps even a reason for owners to buy high.

Unfortunately, despite the fact he launched a leadoff home run on Thursday against the Mariners, it seems highly unlikely Ellsbury will replicate his power production from 2011 in the second half. This isn’t arguing he won’t hit 32 home runs this year. That’s obvious. It seems unlikely, however, the 29-year-old outfielder will be able to post a .200+ ISO in the second half, as he did for the entire season in 2011.

Not only is a .200+ ISO far outside his career norms, but Ellsbury is also not giving himself much of a chance to hit for power. His 52.7% ground ball percentage is currently the highest of his career. And predictably, his ground ball percentage in his dominant 2011 was by far the lowest of his career at 43.0%. The center fielder won’t have an opportunity to put too many baseballs over the fence if he’s primarily hitting them on the ground.

Perhaps in his recent hot streak, however, he’s beginning to drive the baseball more and not put it on the ground so often.

Month wOBA GB% BABIP
April .329 48.0% .320
May .300 57.6% .300
June .387 51.7% .404
July .489 55.2% .444

Not quite. Even during his scorching-hot June and July, Ellsbury has continued to pound out the grounders. His line-drive rate is also up during these months, but the most obvious improvement for Ellsbury has been his BABIP. He owns a .400+ BABIP since the beginning of June.

This isn’t to suggest his recent offensive output is simply attributable to luck. He’s also striking out less and hitting more line drives (as stated), but one has to imagine his BABIP will come back down to earth in the second half. His career BABIP is only .326, and even during his magical 2011 season, his BABIP was only .336. Seeing him sustain something north of .400 in the second half is very difficult.

Jacoby Ellsbury will still be crazy valuable in the second half. He’s likely to keep his batting average around .300, steal a ton of bases, and score loads of runs. Essentially, the Red Sox outfielder appears to be on pace for a season just like the ones from 2008-2009. That’s still stellar in every fantasy format. Just don’t fool yourself by thinking the 2011 version of Ellsbury is returning. His numbers don’t suggest anything like that is on the horizon.



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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


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Jack
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Jack

Great article. That high BABIP make me wonder if Ellsbury is a sell high right now. 10 team h2h 5×5 each cat. Considering trading my Ellsbury for his Verlander? Barring injury I would almost certainly win every pitching category every week. If I can find a replacement that can get half of his steals and 85% of his runs and average I should still have a 50/50 chance to win all the offensive cats except HR’s even against the best teams. Eaton and E. Young are available, but I am worried about both of their playing times. Should I do the trade and if so, who do I pick up?

John
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John

Have a look at Verlander’s average fastball this year and I think you will shy away from targeting him for the second half. He may not be hurt, but he isnt the same pitcher as last 2 years. Seems to me the loss from Ellsbury to Eaton or Young is not offset by getting a pitcher whose fastball is in decline.

MyrAn
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MyrAn

Gotta look at who you are upgrading from also when moving from Verlander. Nothing in isolation.

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