Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing 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. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
One of the biggest questions heading into 2016 for the Red Sox was whether or not Jackie Bradley would be able build upon his scorching finish to 2015. It seems like ages ago, but it really hasn’t been that long since the defensive wizard looked utterly lost against major-league pitching. At that point, his destiny appeared to be a bottom-of-the-lineup bat whose value came exclusively from the glove.
As such, this past year was a huge one for answering the question of just who exactly Bradley is. He was such a good hitter as an amateur and throughout the minors that it was easy to believe in how he ended 2015. Of course, looking at things realistically, there was plenty of reason to doubt he would continue to be even an average major-league hitter. To remember just how confusing he was, look no further than the “Outlook for 2016” section on last year’s installment of this series.
As we know now, things turned out A-OK.
What Went Right in 2016
We’ll start with the bat, that massive question mark last spring. It came through in a big way, as he finished the year with an impressive .273 TAv that put him in the same area of the leaderboard as Dustin Pedroia, Albert Pujols, Chris Davis and Jose Bautista. What was most impressive was the standout from his 2015 run, the power. Bradley finished the year with 26 home runs and a .219 ISO, a mark that tied Hanley Ramirez and Justin Upton. To make matters even more startling is that Bradley was able to show off such a power stroke to all fields. Per Fangraphs’ batted ball data, he had an ISO above .250 to all three fields. His pull stroke, unsurprisingly, stole the show, however. He finished the year with a 37 percent home run to fly ball ratio to right field. Part of that may be thanks to Fenway’s short dimensions down the line, but it’s not as if right field’s power alley is a haven for dingers.
Maybe even more important than the power outburst was Bradley’s plate discipline, and more specifically his strikeout rates. More than anything else, this is what has held the center fielder back during his struggles in the majors. Even when he was red hot in 2015, he was still striking out nearly 30 percent of the time. In 2016, he cut that rate all the way down to 22.5 percent. Now, it’s worth noting that his swinging strike rate is right around his career average, though it’s a large step in the right direction after 2015. He also swung at more pitches out of the zone than he did in 2015, and more than he averaged in his career. On the other hand, he had just one month with a K% over 25, showing a consistency that had been sorely lacking.
Then, there’s his first half of 2016. Oh, that first half. It was such a strong start to his season that this very writer pegged him as the team’s MVP in July. Mookie Betts proceeded to spit in the face of that claim, but that’s neither here nor there. Bradley hit .296/.378/.548 prior to the All-Star game. He recorded a 29-game hitting streak. Hot damn.
Finally, there’s the defense. Oh, that defense. It’s assumed at this point that he’ll be majestic out in center field, but don’t you ever take it for granted.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Really, there isn’t a whole lot to put in this category. One could note Bradley’s disappointing series in the ALDS in which he got one single and was hit by a pitch in 11 plate appearances. Then again, Cleveland’s pitching staff was on another planet this October and not only shut down the entire Red Sox lineup, but also proceeded to laugh in the face of the Blue Jays and Cubs. Tough to hold a three-game sample against Bradley in this case.
He did hit some rough stretches in the regular season, though. Specifically, his August was a mess. That was the one month in which he struck out at least a quarter of the time, and it was actually exactly a third of the time. That, combined with a .258 BABIP, led to an anemic .198 AVG. It certainly wasn’t enough to overshadow the rest of his season, but it’s another reminder that he’ll be prone to cold streaks throughout his career.
Outlook for 2017
While this section was very mysterious last year, I’m more confident in taking a bold stance this time around. I’m not entirely confident Bradley will be able to maintain his low (for him) strikeout rate in 2017, but I believe he can keep it under 30 percent by a safe margin. He’ll be able to draw enough walks and hit for enough power (another .200+ ISO season isn’t ridiculous to expect) to remain an above-average bat. On the other hand, expect another cold streak or three during the year, which hopefully won’t coincide with lineup-wide slumps. Bradley will never be a true superstar, but he’s shown enough to expect him to be an above-average regular, particularly with the baseline his glove provides. That should continue in 2017.
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