This is the seventh installment of the positional battle between the Red Sox and Yankees. Today, we are going to evaluate center field where, just like yesterday, speed reigns supreme. However, both Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson suffered some ‘pains’ during the 2010 season. Ellsbury suffered a multitude of rib pain while Granderson had some early growing pains as a member of the Bombers. However, entering 2011, Ellsbury’s ribs are 100% healed and Granderson has finally adjusted to New York. What can we expect out of these two players this season and ultimately, who holds the advantage?

Center Field

Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury (2010: .192 BA, 0 HRs, 5 RBIs, 7 SBs in 18 games)
Yankees: Curtis Granderson (.247 BA, 24 HRs, 76 RBIs, 12 SBs in 136 games)

After Jacoby Ellsbury collided with Adrian Beltre while chasing a fly ball last April, his 2010 season was basically over. Ellsbury suffered a hairline fracture to four of his ribs and basically didn’t play for the rest of the season. He made two attempts to return in May and August, but the pain never subsided and his season ended when it never really even started. If we simply throw out 2010, the Red Sox are hoping that they can have the 2009 version of the speedy lefty. In 153 games during 2009, Ellsbury collected 188 hits, 94 runs, and swiped 70 bases while only being caught 12 times. Defensively, Ellsbury posted a -6.5 UZR, but boasts a cumulative 15.1 UZR for his career.

The Red Sox are banking on Ellsbury playing a similar role to the one that Brett Gardner plays for the Yankees. Get on-base, disrupt the pitcher’s rhythm, and set the table for the big bats in the lineup. Health is a concern for Ellsbury, but his upside is extremely high.

Bill James 2011 Projection: .300 BA, 102 runs, 8 HRs, 58 RBIs, 59 SBs

It was the tale of two halves for the Yankees’ center field. Before the All-Star Game, Curtis Granderson posted a .240/.309/.409 line with seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 64 games. Yankee fans watched Austin Jackson, who was traded for Granderson, post a first half line of .300/.354/.409. Things turned around though in the second half. Granderson went .253/.338/.523 with 17 HRs and 43 RBIs in 72 games. Jackson regressed to striking out in roughly 30% of his at-bats. Notably, Granderson’s huge September (.278/.369/.622; nine HRs) is hopefully a sign of things to come in 2011.

As a member of the Detroit Tigers, Granderson regularly hit 20-30 HRs and stole 20-30 bases. His batting average has been above .280 once (.302 in 2007), but his blend of speed and power makes him a valuable asset.

Defensively, Granderson has always been above league average, posting a 6.6 UZR in 2010. Granderson has only made five errors over the last two seasons and carries a 23.1 career UZR.

I fully expect the Grandy Man to rebound in 2011. Alike most Yankee free agents, he had to go through a period of adjustment early on, but made up for it with a big second half. The pressure is no longer on Granderson to play as the new kid on the block. I expect him to play much more relaxed in his second season.

Bill James’ 2011 Projection: .264 BA, 95 runs, 25 HRs, 95 RBIs, 14 SBs

Verdict

Edge: PUSH

I hate calling ties, but I felt like I had to in this situation. Both players have extremely high upsides heading into 2011. Ellsbury could easily lead the league in stolen bases and hit .300 while Granderson could mash 30 homers at the Stadium. Both players are about even defensively. Classic case of speed vs. power. On this day though, no winner will be decided until October rolls around.

Yankees 5
Red Sox 3

Who would you rather have this season?

Check back tomorrow as we evaluate the right fielders.