Red Sox: Top five center fielders in Boston’s franchise history
By Sean Penney
Ellsbury spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Red Sox, debuting at the tail end of the 2007 season. As a 23-year old, Ellsbury hit a blazing .353 with a .902 OPS over 33 games that season, slowly stealing the starting job away from veteran Coco Crisp. He would finish that year making his mark in the World Series, where he went 7-for-16 (.438) to help Boston win their second title in four years.
Known for his speed and instincts on the base paths, Ellsbury led the league in stolen bases three times, including a franchise record 70 steals in 2009. The 241 steals he piled up during his tenure in Boston ranks as the third most by a Red Sox player.
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The 23.4 fWAR that Ellsbury compiled in Boston is fifth among Red Sox center fielders, despite that he ranks outside the top 10 in games played.
Much of that value stems from his outstanding 2011 campaign in which he finished second on the MVP ballot. Ellsbury set career highs with a .321 average, .928 OPS, 46 doubles, 32 home runs and 105 RBI. To this day, he has yet to hit more than half that home run total in a single season and hasn’t topped 70 RBI since. He even won a Gold Glove that year, despite never having a reputation as an elite defender.
2011 stands out as a clear outlier from the rest of his career, but that one season created the perception that Ellsbury was a superstar. The Yankees snagged him away in free agency after the 2013 season with a contract they would soon regret. New York is stuck paying north of $21 million per season over the next four years for a player that has continued to regress since leaving Boston.
The Red Sox can look back fondly at Ellsbury’s time in Boston knowing they had him for his best seasons, while feeling fortunate that they let him go at the right time.