Roster Recap: Jackie Bradley’s Missing Bat

As of this very moment, Jackie Bradley Jr. has logged 1962 plate appearances in the major leagues. That’s roughly three full seasons’ worth, give or take a hundred. So what do we know about him? Well, he can use a glove like no one else can. That much is certain. Hits to center field only fall in because Bradley allows them to. At this point, hyperbole comes standard when talking about his glove. We know he’s excellent out there in Fenway’s unique outfield. But his bat? Well, that’s a different story.

The caveat with Bradley is that even though he brings that stellar defense, he won’t always hit, but he’ll have the power that’ll make pitchers really think about how to pitch to him. In 2015 and 2016, that power was evident, as Bradley posted ISO numbers over .210 in each season. 2017 did not see that trend continue, as he finished with a .158 mark. Bradley really needs that power to be a threat in the lineup, even when he’s not one one of his white-hot hitting streaks, and he just never really found it.

What Went Right in 2017

Well, that defense is still marvelous.

Bonus points for him taking one away from Aaron Judge.

Bradley’s defense is still one of the best things to watch, from the jumps he takes off the bat, to the routes, not to mention his signature slow-down-to-make-it-look-easy routine that he does when he’s got a bead on a fly ball. Defense is supposed to slowly degrade as a player gets older, but for Bradley, it sure doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be less than spectacular.

The hat tip is just sublime.

Hitting-wise, he had a good June, where he racked up 15 extra-base hits and posted a 1.009 OPS. The other five months? They, well, they weren’t that good. But thanks to Josh Reddick, he got himself a playoff home run!

And now we don’t miss Reddick as much.

What Went Wrong in 2017

That hitting thing? Bradley had it pretty rough for all those months not named June. The second half was especially brutal, as Bradley slashed .204/.277/.302. There are some staggeringly bad hitting numbers here, so I’ll spare you the horrors and tell you that outside of that one month, he was a depressingly horrible batter.

Bradley is streaky. That’s common knowledge, and it’s not something that’ll change soon. The thing about streaks is that you have to be healthy to even be able to have a streak. Bradley strained his knee running around first base in the first week of the season, and slumped for a good while after he returned. He did fine from June on until he slid into home plate awkwardly in late August, which resulted in a sprain of his left thumb. Hurting your knee and your thumb in the same season is a pretty good strategy if the plan is to sap the power out of your bat, and that’s exactly what happened to Bradley here.

A couple fewer freak injuries and maybe we’re not talking about all of this, but these things happen, and it’s very hard to stay fully healthy over 162 games. Bradley just couldn’t get off to a solid start nor could he finish strong.

What To Expect in 2018

For now, he’s the Red Sox’s most enticing trade bait. Of the Killer Bs, Bradley is the most expendable – he’s the oldest of the core, the weakest hitter of the outfielders, and due for a pretty big raise thanks to his first year of arbitration coming up. He’s been mentioned in being traded to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton, or going to San Francisco for, say, Brandon Belt, but the more his name comes up, the more likely it seems that he’ll be on another team come Opening Day.

It’s hard to predict how he’ll do next year. Bradley’s streakiness is so wild that he doesn’t really have a baseline, even after nearly 2000 PAs. If he gets a full season in and doesn’t hurt vital joints again, he’ll be a valuable piece to whatever team he’s on, even with his offensive peaks and valleys. His glove is a mortal lock to be great, and as long as he can rediscover that lost power, he’ll be an above-average player. There’s a lot of variance in his bat, and playing darts blindfolded probably results in more success than trying to predict what Bradley will do. I don’t envy PECOTA one bit on this one.

Photo by Bob DeChiara – USA TODAY Sports

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