The Dodgers and Jacoby Ellsbury

Before we start, I want to get a few things clear:

-Yes, I know the whole “Jacoby Ellsbury to the Dodgers” thing was probably a product of Scott Boras and the media.

-Yes, I know Matt Kemp should be ready by the start of 2014 to play center field.

-Yes, I know the Dodgers already have four outfielders, three of which have massive contracts, and three of which are injury prone.

-Yes, I know Ellsbury is injury prone. This example is operating in a vacuum.

-No, I don’t think the Dodgers will end up signing Ellsbury. There are just too many things that need to happen in order for the signing to make sense. And even then, depending on contracts, the signing STILL might not make sense due to Ellsbury’s injury history, along with how much money the Dodgers would have to eat on the contracts of their traded outfielders, and how badly that money would hamstring them for the future.

Okay. Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, let’s begin.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, when healthy, have one of the best offensive outfields in the league. But, despite having a couple gold glove winners out there, they lack something when it comes to the fielding department, specifically in center field.

In 2013, the Dodgers trotted out five different players for a combined total of 1450.1 innings in center field, with Andre Ethier (645.1) and Kemp (576.1) getting the lion’s share of playing time. Now, Kemp hasn’t looked awful in center field (besides running into walls, which we’ll cover in a second), but UZR has less-than-friendly reviews on him. With Ethier, he looked somewhat usable while healthy in center, but just looked bad in the NLCS while trying to play with one good ankle. For the record, UZR gives Ethier a -1.8 for his efforts this season. The other three that played center for the Dodgers this season were Skip Schumaker (167 IP, -1.3 UZR), Yasiel Puig (55.1 IP), and Nick “Chili” Buss (6.1 IP). Schumaker shouldn’t be a starter, Puig’s natural position is right field, and I’m not even going to talk about Buss being in there as a viable option.

So, that brings us to comparing UZR for Kemp and Ellsbury.

Year Kemp (IP, UZR) Ellsbury (IP, UZR)
2009 1355.1, 3.2 1302.2, -9.7
2010 1346, -25.8 104.2, 1.3
2011 1380, -4.8 1358.1, 16.0
2012 911, -9.0 611.1, 3.0
2013 576.1, -16.2 1188.1, 10.0

If we take the three seasons with the greatest sample size, Ellsbury is clearly the optimal choice in the field. Granted, he doesn’t have the arm strength that Kemp has, but UZR factors that into its ratings as well. The signing of Ellsbury to play center field would likely move Kemp to left, and would make Ethier and Carl Crawford expendable. Moving Kemp to left field also saves him from the rigors of center field that have plagued him over the past couple years.

Offensively, the acquisition would be relative. Yes, Ethier would probably hit more home runs, but Ellsbury would offset that with stolen bases. In 2013, Ethier posted a wRC+ of 120 without being able to hit lefties at all (wRC+ of 73 vs LHP) and Ellsbury wasn’t far behind with a 113 RC+ and troubles against lefties of his own (w RC+ of 78 vs LHP). Ellsbury represents more of an upgrade in speed over both Crawford and Ethier, and would give the offense a new dynamic to go with Puig atop the order in front of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Kemp, and newly-signed Alexander Guerrero.

Given what a healthy Kemp has meant to this team in the past (which was just as recently as April, 2012), he is arguably the most important piece in their lineup. If moving him out of center field and into left field can save him from some of the numerous hamstring and shoulder injuries that he has experienced, it would be a huge win for the Dodgers to finally acquire a proper center fielder without giving up any value on offense.

Interests are slow-pitch softball, fantasy baseball, anything and everything to do with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and any sports happening that have to do with the greater Los Angeles area.

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