Reading Jacoby Ellsbury's mind

Because they always have to have something to worry about in Red Sox Nation, it's time to wonder how Jacoby Ellsbury will handle his "demotion" to left field. From Nick Cafardo's piece:

    "I agree that playing center field produces the feeling of being in charge," said former Red Sox outfielder Gabe Kapler, now with Tampa Bay. “After all, by being positioned in center field, you essentially have the ability to call off any player on the field should you choose to pursue a ball in play.

    "Also, the baseball world, fair or not, seems to consider the center fielder a superior defender. That must make some feel a little sexier.

    "That said, if we as players do a good job self-evaluating, and we evaluate other players properly, we know when another guy is a better fit for a position.


    Another scout made the point, “When the Red Sox had Coco Crisp and Ellsbury, who did they keep in center when both played? It was Coco. Some will say that was because Coco was the veteran, but they wouldn’t have done that if they felt Ellsbury was a better center fielder than Crisp. It’s unfortunate Crisp has had so many injuries because he’s really an extraordinary center fielder in terms of running down the ball.’’


    "I think you run the risk of Ellsbury really getting down on himself," said a longtime general manager. "He sees himself as a center fielder, and on three-quarters of the teams in baseball, that’s what he is and a good one.

    "The psychology of this is kind of tough for him, I would think. He’s got to get over that part of it and then move on and make the most out of being a left fielder. It’s not as sexy of a position, but obviously he can look to a guy like Carl Crawford or go back in history and see that Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson were guys who could have played center who moved to left so they could enhance other parts of their game."

I'm not sure if Bonds and Henderson moved to left in order to enhance other parts of their game. I think they might have been moved because a) they couldn't really throw, and b) their teams had better center fielders (the Pirates had Andy Van Slyke; the A's had Dwayne Murphy). In both cases, the greater player was supplanted by a greater fielder, who in both cases was older than our budding superstar.

Granted, not this much older. Mike Cameron (37) is 11 years older than Ellsbury. If Ellsbury's feelings are hurt, I suspect it's because his replacement seems on the ancient side of things.

He'll probably get over it. They usually do. And our anonymous scout does have a point: this is the second time already that Ellsbury's been pushed to left field. If the Red Sox thought he was an outstanding center fielder, this probably wouldn't have happened even once. His poor Ultimate Zone Rating in center field last season has been roundly dismissed, and I suspect it was just a one-season fluke ... sort of. Even if you don't believe he was really an awful center fielder -- and I'm not sure that I do -- it would still be exceptionally unlikely for an excellent center fielder to finish a full season with negative-18.3 UZR per 150 games. I don't know if he had a terrible year in center, but I don't believe he had a particularly good one.

For whatever reason, Ellsbury might not be the center fielder that we assumed he would be. Meanwhile, his numbers in the corners have been outstanding!

Welcome to the vagaries of fielding stats. Ellsbury probably isn't as good as his UZR in the corners would suggest, or as bad as his UZR in center field. He's probably a good outfielder who will stand out more in left field (as Carl Crawford does) but won't be quite as valuable as if he were in center. But the Red Sox have a new outfielder who's even more valuable in center.

Yes, it's just that simple. Ellsbury will cope, just has hundreds of players before him have coped. But things will go a lot easier for him if he hits a few more home runs.