Health paramount to Ellsbury’s success in 2016

Two seasons have passed since the Yankees and Jacoby Ellsbury agreed to a colossal $153M contract. Those two years have been a disappointment offensively, and with five more years remaining on Ellsbury’s deal, it’s difficult to find reason for optimism. Jacoby’s body has let him down, with various injuries hindering his performance during his time in pinstripes. This isn’t a surprise, as health has always been an issue for the center fielder dating back to his time in Boston.

Since joining the Yankees, Ellsbury has hit .265/.324/.387 (97 wRC+) with 60 stolen bases in 74 attempts. That isn’t the ideal leadoff hitter that the club had hoped him to be. His hitting became such an eyesore that he was fittingly benched in the American League Wild Card game against southpaw Dallas Keuchel last season. All that said, there have been some positives during Ellsbury’s time in pinstripes.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about this very same topic. As you might remember, Ellsbury was having an excellent 2014 season through August. Why? Probably because he was healthy. He was easily the club’s best player until the final month of the season, with a .288/.348/.435 batting line and 37 steals to boot. Then, after spraining his ankle on August 29th, it was all downhill. Returning after just a few games, he played through most of September¬†until he strained his hamstring in late in the month, knocking him out of the last nine games of the 2014 season. Those impressive numbers he had built? Depleted. A full year triple-slash of .271/.328/.419 doesn’t get anyone excited.

In 2015, it took far less time for Ellsbury to break down. On May 20th, a knee injury forced him to the disabled list. To that point of the season, Jacoby was on fire, hitting .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) in 170 plate appearances. He returned in early July, but was far from the same player. He closed out the year on an ugly .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) run, and one can only wonder if Jacoby ever felt fully healthy, or at least close to it. Lending some credence to this thought, his stolen base attempts seem to hint at him still not feeling comfortable. In 74 games after returning, he¬†sought to outrun the opposing battery only 11 times. Before the injury, he had 19 tries in just 37 games. I don’t think it’s to reach to say something wasn’t right after returning from the disabled list.

Clearly, Ellsbury’s talent hasn’t dissipated. He was great for the vast majority of 2014, and was even better for the first quarter of 2015. As a 32 year-old, he’s still theoretically in his prime. Yes, it’s the very tail end of his prime, but there’s still some gas left in the tank. Can he stay healthy in 2016, though? Considering what’s occurred in recent seasons, it’s unlikely. Nonetheless, with some good fortune medically, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see Ellsbury rebound this season.

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