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New goals for Ellsbury after his fabulous 2011

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 27, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury compiles a list of his statistical goals before every season, then reviews them afterward to see how close he came.

Surely he must have surpassed all of those goals last season, when he finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting.

But Ellsbury said yesterday that some of his targets were not hit.

“I set my standards pretty high,’’ he said.

So what goal did he miss?

“I’ll keep that to myself at this time,’’ he said, smiling.

It’s hard to imagine what was left undone. Ellsbury hit .321 with 46 doubles, 32 home runs, 39 steals, 105 RBIs, and 119 runs. In baseball history, no player ever has had as many home runs, doubles, RBIs, and steals in a season.

Ellsbury’s 364 total bases were the most in the majors and the most for a leadoff hitter since Bobby Bonds had 341 in 1973. He became the first Red Sox player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season.

In September, when the team was collapsing around him, Ellsbury hit .358 with 20 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 27 games.

“I thought he was the MVP personally. I just thought his year was phenomenal,’’ manager Bobby Valentine said. “From Opening Day, when I saw him in Texas, his swing seemed to be so consistently good. His defense was terrific. Watching him at the end of the year, it looked like he was giving the at-bats that were needed.

“The numbers speak for themselves. I don’t know how you get those numbers. It’s an amazing body of work how he filled up all the columns.’’

Ellsbury trailed Detroit ace Justin Verlander in the MVP voting, receiving four of a possible 28 first-place votes. That the Tigers advanced to the playoffs and the Red Sox choked surely influenced some voters.

“When I found out about the results, I was happy for Justin Verlander,’’ Ellsbury said. “But at the same time, me being as competitive as I am, I wish I would have won. If you asked all those other guys, they would have said the same thing, too.’’

Valentine could not remember a player who had a breakout season that combined so much power and speed.

“If he’s not totally unique, he’s in a real small sample. He’s just a joy,’’ the manager said.

Where should the Red Sox hit Ellsbury in their lineup? It’s a riddle without a wrong answer. His speed and ability to get on base suggest they would be wise to leave him at the top of the order. The Red Sox led the majors in runs last season, so why tinker with what worked so well?

But why squander so many extra-base hits in the leadoff spot? Having Ellsbury come up so many times without runners on base seems wasteful. Surely he should hit third.

“We’ve talked about this already and I bet we have a chance to talk about it again, just call it a hunch,’’ said Valentine, who has ducked all questions about his lineup.

“That’s going to be an interesting situation that will probably evolve during the spring and the season. The last thing in the world you ever want to do is create confusion, doubt, any of those things. Right now he seems to be free and open [to hitting anywhere in the lineup].’’

If Ellsbury has a preference, he’s keeping it to himself.

“It’s hard for me to say at this point,’’ he said. “I haven’t hit third on this team before. I don’t know how they would go about mixing the lineup. Certain guys feel comfortable hitting in certain positions. I’ve hit in different areas in the lineup and it hasn’t really bothered me. I feel comfortable.

“Time will tell what will happen. I really don’t have an opinion either way at this moment.’’

But perhaps a clue as to what Ellsbury prefers was unearthed when he was asked what statistic he took the most pride in last season.

“I was pretty happy with driving in the runs,’’ he said. “It’s all about scoring runs and driving in runs. I was pretty excited about that.’’

The other question with Ellsbury is whether he is marking off the days until he becomes a free agent or will join teammates Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz in agreeing to a long-term deal with the Sox.

Ellsbury and the Red Sox settled on a one-year, $8.05 million deal for this season, avoiding arbitration. Ellsbury will not be a free agent until after the 2013 season, giving the Sox ample time to work out an extension - if Ellsbury is interested.

“There’s always that possibility,’’ Ellsbury said. “I kind of leave that up to my agent and I’m just happy to get everything worked out this year. As far as future contracts and stuff like that, I let them take care of it and then inform me if there’s any decisions to be made.’’

Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, usually advises his client to test his worth in the free agent market. Ellsbury, who is from Oregon and makes his home in Arizona, could prefer a team on the West Coast.

But he also professed his love for all things Boston.

“I love playing here; it’s a great place to play,’’ he said. “Love the fans. The fans show up for spring training. It’s a great place to play and I enjoy it. It’s the only place I know. I enjoy playing in that pressure environment.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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