Welcome to BP Boston’s new Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
The glove sits on a hand, which is connected to an arm, which runs down to the body. From there, you can continue down to the legs or up to the head — the two parts of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s body that were reliably great through his up-and-down first three seasons with the Sox. For the better part of two seasons he couldn’t hit, but oh man, could he field: if a fly ball was hit anywhere remotely near him, his brain would tell him where to get it, and his legs would get him there. It was spectacular.
The problem was that his reliable greatness in the field was weighed down by a newfound incompetence at the plate. An on-base machine in the minors, he couldn’t get anything going for the big-league club. The good news for Bradley, I suppose, was that neither could anybody else, and after Shane Victorino was dealt at last year’s trade deadline he finally got a shot at a regular starting job, albeit in garbage time of another failed Sox season.
What went right in 2015
The dog days were kind to Bradley. From August 9th until the end of the season, he hit .294/.366/.613 with nine home runs—almost twice as many as he had hit in his career to that point. Even Gray’s Sports Almanac couldn’t have predicted this. In 530 plate appearances between 2013 and 2014, he hit an impressively bad .196/.269/.280 and followed it up with an even worse .121/.254/.172 in 71 plate appearances prior through last August 8th.
So what changed? As the ubiquitous Matthew Kory described in a wonderful, in-depth August FanGraphs article on Bradley, the observable reason for Bradley’s success was the ditching of a toe-tap at the start of his swing in favor of a more flat-footed, let-it-rip approach. I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are a couple .gif-notes, as it were:
Before ditching toe-tap, cannot hit anything.
After toe-tap, is basically Bryce Harper.
It seems obvious that this helped, but his bananas August line—.354/.429/.734, no big deal—was boosted by a .451 BABIP, which fell to a below-average-but-reasonable .269 in September and October, leveling out at a happy .336 for the second half. The combination of a terrible first half, a scorching three weeks and an average garbage time September/October left him with a season line of .249/.335/.498, arguably better than his best-case prospectus coming into this season.
On top of all that, of course, he was righteous in the field. I played around with UZR leaderboards while researching this article, and had to adjust for innings minimums to see Bradley’s real impact, given how often he moved between positions. When I plugged a 120-inning minimum into Fangraphs’ UZR/150 calculator, it listed Bradley the right fielder as the 29th-best fielder in the game and fifth-best right fielder. That’s pretty good, but it’s not great, and trailed the best outfielder in the game by a considerable margin. On the bright side, Bradley wears that dude’s underwear: his 55.1 UZR/150 as a left fielder was a full 10 points clear of any other player in baseball, at any position.
He’s good at fielding, is what I’m saying.
What went wrong in 2016?
Not much, to be honest, though a final line of .249/.335/.498 isn’t altogether super inspiring. Bradley’s main problem is that the season didn’t start on August 9th, and that even his late-season playing opportunity was afforded mostly by the unholy suckitude the Sox laid on the first half of the year. Then again, this article is just about Bradley, so yeah, very little went wrong. The worst thing happened to him last year is purely speculation: he may have sold his soul to the devil for that .451 August BABIP. Satan’s rates aren’t cheap and we don’t want him to come knocking during a playoff run.
Outlook for 2016
That is the $500,000 question, isn’t it? After hopping to and from the majors over the last three seasons, Bradley has just over one year of service time and remains under team control in 2016. With Betts and Castillo evolving into everyday MLB players, there’s room for Bradley to slide in as a third outfielder who might just have the best glove in the game. It’s tempting to say that his two-month outburst portends better things at the plate than what he showed through last August 8th, but baseball is a fickle jerk who sometimes takes nice things away from us. Maybe he’ll fall back into bad habits, or maybe Dave Dombrowski will ship him off as part of a blockbuster trade, or maybe he’ll continue to light the world on fire. We won’t know for a few months. Until then, we’ll have to settle for these, among many, many others:
No worries, @JackieBradleyJr’s on it: http://t.co/SvkX1GRDUF #RedSox pic.twitter.com/EC9i0mBlGh
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) August 19, 2015
.@JackieBradleyJr asked the wall if it was OK: http://t.co/Vcd9BDw99P pic.twitter.com/GbnxvoBRfu
— MLB (@MLB) August 23, 2015
Photo by Andy Marlin, USA Today Sports Images