The Yankees season can still be whatever the players want it to be. But whatever this team becomes, it will likely do so in spite of Jacoby Ellsbury. His-story over the past three years tells us we have already seen the best of Ellsbury in the 2017 season.
The Yankees are getting career years from several players, including Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro, and Aaron Judge. If you noticed, Jacoby Ellsbury was not on that list. And his history suggests he is not likely to be.
Of course it didn’t start this way. Jake began the year displaying all the talent that still resides inside his 33-year old body. That’s nothing to sneer at as there is still an All-Star player inside of him.
His slash by mid-May read .281/.349/.422. He had already hit four home runs, significant in that he failed to hit double digit home runs four of the last five seasons, hitting only nine all of last year.
Jake wasn’t just bringing the power, he was also bringing the speed. He had eight stolen bases in those first 39 games. That’s another huge improvement as he had only 20 stolen bases last year and 21 the year before.
Jacoby, for the second time in two years, was off to a hot start.
A Familiar Story Begins
But then came the injury. With Ellsbury, there is always the injury. He has missed significant time each of the last three years, averaging more than a month per season. It’s another reason the contract—seven years and $153 million through 2020—has been a disaster.
Worse, Jake always seems to get hurt at the beginning of the year, impacting the rest of the season.
2014 has proven to be the outlier as Jake was healthy his first year with the Yankees; he was also mediocre. He never seemed to rise too high or sink too low and finished with a slash of .271/.328/.419. That’s poor for a lead-off hitter by any measure.
Ellsbury seemed to feel the same way. He came out of the gate swinging in 2015 and by May 19th was hitting .324/.412/.372. He was every bit the dynamic star the Yankees had signed. But then came the injury. With Ellsbury, there is always the injury. And it always seems to limit his vitality, or perhaps his desire to play his hardest.
Jake hurt his knee on May 19th and went on the disabled list until July eighth. But the old Ellsbury was gone. In his stead was just an old Ellsbury. He went downhill from that day on, never looking like the same player, and finished the season with a line of .257/.318/.345. Jacoby’s injury in May hurt the team all year.
The 2016 Ellsbury was on a similar path when he got injured.
On May sixth—the day he was injured—he was only hitting .260/.321/.380. But life is nothing without context. Going back to April 19th of last year, his BA was a lowly .213, so he clearly picked it up in the interim. And his last week before the injury shows a player just about to break out.
He bats .500 on April 29th with two walks. He pulls an O-fer the next day, still leaving his average at .235, and follows it up by again batting .500 and scoring two runs on May first.
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The second was an off day. But on the third he returned to get one hit, following that up the next day by going three for three, with two walks, in his five plate appearances. He scored a run that day and finished with a .271 BA. Jake went hitless the next day and was injured after working a first inning walk on May sixth.
Yes, his slash was not impressive. But that is the picture of a player just turning it on, all of his stats laddering up. He looked, once again, like the player from the start of 2015.
Then came the injury. He came back at the very end of May and ever so briefly raised his average to .280, but that was a blip on the radar screen. He quickly regressed to form and finished, injured, hitting just .263/.330/.374. Once again, it was the Yankees who were truly hurt.
We Already Know the End to this Story
The Yankees are in a similar situation this season. Jake returned on June 26th. His current slash reads .266/.337/.384. He has added only two stolen bases to his total but no more home runs. This is the likely trend from here on out.
And that’s because there is one more piece of bad news. In no Yankees season, even 2014 when he was just 30 and uninjured for the entire year, has Jacoby Ellsbury ever played better at the end of the season. Whatever the team is going to get from him, they get it early or not at all. The 2017 New York Yankees have already gotten the best of Ellsbury.
I’m sure the Yankees would like to get the money back from his contract. But that’s not going to happen, anymore than I’m going to get a refund for my on-line course, “Sports Writing for Dummies”. Or that Jake will go back to playing like an All-Star at anytime the rest of the year. The best they can hope for is a minor injury that lets better players take the field.
Because with Ellsbury, there is always the injury.