How many people would guess that Jacoby Ellsbury had a higher (baseball-reference.com) Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than Carl Crawford in 2008? And in 2009, Ellsbury had more hits than Crawford, more stolen bases, 25 less strikeouts (and nine less walks), more triples and only one less double? The only difference between Ellsbury and Crawford in 2009 was defense and homers. Crawford was coveted by many teams because of the impact he can make in a line up. Ellsbury is nearly the same player.
And yet last year was a complete disaster. Broken ribs derailed his entire season. But it wasn't just the broken ribs, it was teammates who questioned Ellsbury's team spirit (see here for one) and the battle the player had with the Red Sox over the nature of his injuries. Let's just say that between the service time lost and the good will lost, it was a year to forget for the outfielder who won't turn 28 until September.
If Ellsbury can come back and be the kind of player he was in 2008 and 2009, the Red Sox will have two guys who can drive the ball to the gaps, run around the bases and run like the wind all over the outfield. It's funny how both Ellsbury and Crawford would both be so much more valuable if they could increase their walks. Both don't walk nearly enough. And if a lot of Ellsbury's game doesn't come back, that lack will greatly diminish his value to the Red Sox.
But just say that Ellsbury can bat .300 again and push his OBP over .350 and still get his 50 to 70 steals and ten triples, the Red Sox could be a monster. And say the Red Sox can get over their man crush on Marco Scutaro and put Jed Lowrie in the line up full time, holy macaroni, this could be a scary, scary team to face for any pitching staff. But to this writer, Ellsbury is a key component. If he can get back and improve upon his 2008 and 2009 performance, the Red Sox are that much better a team. If he can't get his career back on track, then the Red Sox are merely terrific. And terrific just might not be good enough to win the AL East.