Jackie Bradley Jr. is having adjustment issues. There is no doubt about that at this juncture, but defensively Bradley is the real deal. Sure, Bradley will make his mistakes. We have seen a few balls that increased in degree of difficulty over judgment issues. Decision-making will improve along the learning curve.
What has my attention is his arm. I observed Bradley at Pawtucket and saw the same explosiveness and quick release he currently demonstrates. Bradley is excellent at covering the gaps and instinctively Bradley is a perfect fit in center field with his innate ability to picture where the ball will eventually arrive. Bradley will only improve as his understanding of the pitchers, fields, abilities of base runners and even the impact of weather are added to his personal defensive resume.
Now back to that arm and its impact. Yes, I love that arm of his.
Coaches have an imaginary Maginot Line for when to hold ‘em and when to show ‘em in attempting to take that extra base. With the previous occupant in CF, that line was considerably closer than where it is now that Bradley has elicited a few “oohs” and “ahs” from fans and players. Couple that with his ability to charge the ball and even speedsters risk an embarrassing stroll to the dugout after a fatal first to third attempt.
So I will now attempt to compare Bradley with some center fielders that I have seen from the distant and not so distant Red Sox past.
The crème de la crème is Jim Piersall.
Casey Stengel once commented that the ten best catches he had ever seen were all by Piersall. Jimmy was hyper kinetic in the outfield and some of that can be traced to his own unique personality and other issues that are well documented. As a defender, Piersall was exceptional and without weakness. His jump on the ball was up in lights as was his arm. Piersall had above average speed that seemed, to me, to be of Olympic sprinter quality when pursuing the ball.
Fred Lynn’s road to the majors was often viewed as being his glove. Anything on the offensive end was baseball gravy. Little did we know?
Fred Lynn was smooth. That is the best description. Lynn, like Shane Victorino, had one significant flaw. Walls, to both, are merely an obstacle in the way of getting to the ball. Lynn was the prime reason the center field walls became padded. Lynn played, by the standards of the time, a relatively shallow center. Some players do this to disguise liabilities, while others do it because they can. Lynn was firmly in the “can” column and the occasional fan or scout would surface with the name Tris Speaker, who often had unassisted double plays from his CF post.
Ellis Burks arrived on the Boston scene in 1987 with a substantial pedigree in the defensive side of the game. This was certainly not understated. Burks, to me, was another who should never have been allowed to leave the Red Sox, but that is a point in history I care not to review.
I had seen Burks in a few games at Pawtucket prior to his Boston promotion and was impressed by his fluid motion in closing the all-important gaps and, most significantly, a strong and accurate arm. This, as with Bradley, carried over to his MLB career.
In his Boston years Burks was not physically the same player he became at Colorado. Burks put on some muscle and when he returned to Boston in 2004 he was at the end of the line. To me, Burks had a rather loping stride to the ball that was very similar to Fred Lynn.
Home insurance is rarely needed. Applying a statistical probability to the use, you could build an argument to pass on it. That is the rather poor analogy I will use to bring Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury into the picture.
Damon and Ellsbury had that one flaw that, to me, is so important – the ability or just the threat factor that an above average to cannon arm presents. Like insurance, it may rarely be needed, but when your house is up in flames or you just lost a playoff game over a weak three bounce toss that is twenty feet wide of home plate, the value becomes apparent.
I am a huge fan of Damon and especially Ellsbury, but the reality is neither – no matter how quick they are – could overcome that one aspect of their game – arm strength.