Boston Red Sox revisit: Ellsbury versus Bradley


A deal may look fantastic at first glow and then it will slowly deteriorate. You see that surface with trades and free agent signings. A great season or two and then hitting bottom with a “What were they thinking?” directed at management. Is that what New York is faced with in regards to Jacoby Ellsbury? Just might be true with a payroll obligation that equals that of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez combined.

Last year I wrote on the linkage between Ellsbury and Jackie Bradley. Bradley was supposed to be the replacement part and the part should have been recalled and eventually was – to Pawtucket. Bradley failed in 2014 and Ellsbury succeeded. Both players will be forever linked, despite the emergence of Mookie Betts.

The Ellsbury of 2015 has been affected by his chronic ability to get injured. Some of it is play related and some appear to be just normal wear and tear one would expect, but wear and tear on a 32-year-old who relies on speed can be devastating. And for Bradley 2015 was another forgettable season of lost promise, disappointment and failed expectations – at least until a return to Boston on June 25th.

Bradley earned his promotion since a sudden “He got it!” was happening with the previously inept bat of Bradley. In Pawtucket the average was .305 with some decent power numbers. And, with Bradley there is no comparison with the glove unless you wish to go back to Andruw Jones, Jim Edmonds and Willie Mays. Yes, JBJ is that good and possibly even better.

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For Bradley it was the last chance in the Boston trip as another bust and Bradley would inevitably be shuffled elsewhere, despite his A+ glove and arm. Didn’t happen.

So what is the comparison like for 2015? A year later into the majestic generosity of the Yankees and the parsimony of the Red Sox, Ells bat has disappeared. Whoosh. Gone. The slash is .257/.318/.345 with seven home runs and 33 RBI in 511 plate appearances. Fifteen doubles and two triples. Ouch! And Bradley?

JBJ was just ripping it for August and then cooled off to finish with a slash of .249/.335/.498 with ten home runs and 43 RBI in a mere 255 plate appearances. And, the 17 doubles and four triples get anyone’s attention. Bradley is not hitting bloopers, but rockets. The important part of the Bradley performance was a slump that produced a 1-30 with 17 K’s and the recovery. Bradley broke out with a double and a game-altering two-run shot.

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The deeper metrics also show a wide gap with ISO of .088 for Ellsbury to Bradley’s .249. Ditto with wOBA as Bradley checks in at .355 to .294 for Ellsbury. Bradley’s WAR is 2.4 and Ells is 0.9. However, the warning area for Bradley is his September diaspora with a .138 average.

Defensively Ellsbury is a great outfielder who covers the gaps, can come in on a ball or go out and shows no fear. Bradley does that and simply does it better and then comes the arm. That is a huge separator. JBJ will eventually take over full-time in center field and that should be quite a defensive show. For 2015 the metrics of UZR/150 have Bradley third in the AL outfielders with 22.2 to Ells with -5.6 for UZR/150.

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Bradley and Ellsbury – at least to this observer – will be linked for years to come and even share the same agent – Scott Boras. A subtle comparison of what we have versus what we could have had. In 2014 it was all Ellsbury and in 2015 it is all Bradley. A tie after two seasons. What happens in 2016?

Sources: Fangraphs