Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley breaking out of his slump

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 31: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 31: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 31, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley is finally starting to emerge from his slump. This is long overdue based on the hard contact he’s making.

Jackie Bradley Jr. has always been a streaky hitter. He’s a gifted athlete who will always provide value with his elite defensive skills in center field. He can also be extremely frustrating to watch at the plate when he’s in a funk. Bradley has been mired in a season-long slump that has fans clamoring for the Boston Red Sox to move on.

The team hasn’t given up on him yet and Bradley is finally showing signs of rewarding that patience.

Bradley has strung together a pair of three-hit games, going 6-for-7 with a double and a home run. It’s the first time this season that Bradley has recorded consecutive multi-hit games.

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Is Bradley finally figuring things out at the plate? We could easily brush this off as a small sample size fluke, although a deeper look into Bradley’s batted ball data reveals this breakout has been long overdue.

The three-hit performances still leave Bradley just shy of the Mendoza Line with a .199 batting average. His 25.6% strikeout rate is relatively high but about the same as his career rate. He’s drawing walks at about the same rate he usually does.

Blame BABIP

That putrid production is fueled primarily by a .255 BABIP that is well below league average and his career .293 rate. This suggests that Bradley has been extremely unlucky.

Skeptics will point out that BABIP isn’t always dictated by luck. Players who tend to make soft contact or pop up a lot of shallow fly balls are going to find fewer batted balls fall in for hits. However, that hasn’t been the case for Bradley.

Bradley’s 34 percent FB% is in line with his career rate. His 10.9 IFFB% is a tick higher than usual yet lower than it was in his breakout 2016 campaign. It’s fair to say his poor BABIP isn’t the result of too many popups, which is common for hitters in a slump.

A low BABIP isn’t due to soft contact either. Bradley is producing a career-best 21.6 line drive percentage. His 46.3 Hard Hit Percentage ranks 31st in the majors, per Statcast data provided by Baseballsavant.com. He’s 30th with an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph.

Opposite field power

Perhaps the most promising sign from Bradley’s mini-hot streak is how he’s getting his hits. In Tuesday’s win over the Los Angeles Angels, Bradley doubled and hit a home run. Both extra-base hits were hit to left field. This is encouraging from one of the game’s more pull-happy swingers.

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The home run was the first Bradley has hit to the opposite field this season. A glance at his career spray chart shows almost all of his home runs are hit to dead center or pulled to right field. If Bradley can start taking advantage of the Green Monster at Fenway Park it would be a boon for his production.

Bradley only has 45 hits this season but 17 have gone for extra bases. He’s not going to come close to the career-high 26 home runs he blasted in 2016 but Bradley’s on pace to approach the 30 doubles he tallied that season.

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Hitting the ball hard does you no good if it’s hit right at someone. That has happened far too often to Bradley this season. That misfortune was bound to correct itself eventually and we may finally be seeing signs of his season turning around.