2014 Statistics: .271/.328/.419, 27 2B, 16 HR, 39 SB, 107 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR
2015 Contract Status: Signed for $21.1 million. Six years and $131.9 million remaining.
The 2013 Yankees received appallingly poor production from their outfielders aside from Brett Gardner, as Curtis Granderson dealt multiple hit by pitch injuries and both Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells proved that they were not regulars anymore. Writers expected the Yankees to sign an outfielder, but due to Gardner's success in center field, not many predicted that they would go after a rival: Jacoby Ellsbury. Nonetheless, that is exactly what the Yankees did, as they inked the former Red Sox center fielder to a big seven-year, $153 million deal. At first, there was an outcry, especially since the contract was signed right in the middle of the news that Robinson Cano was about to leave the Yankees for an even greater monster contract of his own in Seattle. How could the Yankees commit so much money to a defense-focused outfielder who often suffered through injuries and had only one standout power season on his ledger?
As long as fans weren't demanding Ellsbury to replicate his career year of 2011, then they should have been quite content with his 2014 campaign. He stayed healthy almost season, appearing in 149 games to help add credence to the theory that his label of "injury prone" is undeserved, as most of his games missed over the previous several seasons have been due to freak collision injuries. He did miss the final nine games of the season due to a thigh strain, but they also occurred with the Yankees all but eliminated from playoff contention with little incentive to risk further injury. No Yankee in 2014 appeared in more games than Ellsbury; keep that in mind the next time someone complains about his health history.
At the plate, Ellsbury produced just about as well as he did in his championship 2013 season (.298/.355/.426, 113 wRC+). His 2013 and 2014 wRC+ marks are almost the same, and a further league-wide dip in offensive numbers account for that. Additionally, the 27 lower points in batting average and OBP are pretty quickly explained by a dip in BABIP from .341 in 2013 to .296 in 2014; whereas in 2013 he experienced a little more fortune than usual (.321 career BABIP), this year, the game corrected itself. After struggling a bit against southpaws in 2013 (.246/.323/.318), he erased concerns about same-handed pitchers in 2014 by, in fact, hitting better against lefties (.300/.355/.472) than righties (.258/.316/.395). The overall numbers were just fine for a center fielder. Ellsbury's power was a little slow to develop, as he only had six dingers at the All-Star Break, but he bounced back with 10 homers in the second half.
Ellsbury also quickly made a great impression as one of the game's best baserunners. His 5.7 FanGraphs Baserunning mark ranked 10th in the league, and his 39 stolen bases were runner-up to only Jose Altuve in the American League. He was caught just five times on the season, an excellent 88.6% success rate. (For comparison, Tim Raines has one of the best career success rates of all time at 84.7%.) Additionally, he was likely safe on one of those caught stealings, and in another, it might have been part of a larger run-down play to score a run from third. After getting caught on July 8th, Ellsbury decided that he was tired of such nonsense and successfully stole 15 straight bases to end the season. The man knows how to run the bases, and Gardner (just 21 SB) should be taking notes on Ellsbury's aggressiveness.
In the outfield, Ellsbury demonstrated why he was one of the fewer players in baseball who could push the slick-fielding Gardner to left field. He was remarkable with a +12.0 FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) and a +2.1 FanGraphs Defensive rating as well. Plays like the ones below were eventually so common that they were practically expected:
The Yankees' other big money position player signings Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran struggled in 2014, but at least Ellsbury excelled. He was one of the few bright spots consistently in the Yankees' lineup day in and day out, and his high caliber of play gave fans a lot to look forward to from him in the years to come.