Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. showing signs of life at the plate
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit a couple of home runs in his last two games. Is this a sign he’s breaking out of his slump?
Hitters fall into slumps that can last a week or two. Sometimes those funks can last a bit longer. For Jackie Bradley Jr., the stretch of futility at the plate has been a drag on the Boston Red Sox lineup all season with seemingly no end in sight. Until now.
A trip north of the border to Toronto may have awakened the bat of Bradley, as he’s hit a home run in each of the two games in the current series against the Blue Jays. Tuesday night’s two-hit performance raised his batting average to .157, the highest his average has been since April 16. He hasn’t seen his batting average rise to at least .200 since April 1.
Those are Bradley’s first two homers of the season to go along with a meager four doubles, resulting in a pitiful .231 slugging percentage that ranks dead last among qualified MLB hitters. He’s also last in batting average and OPS (.481).
Bradley has undoubtedly been the worst hitter in baseball, to the extent that his Gold Glove-caliber defense can’t salvage his value. His -1.0 WAR makes him arguably the worst position player in the game this season, even when factoring in his glove.
Is this sudden power surge a sign that the notoriously streaky Bradley is turning his season around?
Well, we should pump the brakes on any excitement based on a two-game sample. Bradley was 1-for-5 in the first game of this series. The home run was encouraging but the performance wasn’t moving the needle much on his batting average. Bradley was 1-for-11 in his previous three games entering the series so there was no indicating that a hot streak was imminent.
That’s often the way it goes for Bradley. He can be ice cold for long stretches before suddenly heating up to do some damage for weeks at a time. Bradley struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza Line in each of the first few months of last season. Then he hit a respectable .260 in July and jumped to .282 in August.
A deeper look into Bradley’s metrics suggests some positive regression is in order. His .218 BABIP is among the lowest in the league and well below what he’s produced in any prior season. That must be a fluke based on his Statcast data. Bradley’s 40.7 Hard Hit% and 88.8 exit velocity are a bit below last year’s levels but still in line with his career rates and above-average by MLB standards.
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The biggest red flag associated with Bradley’s production is an uptick in strikeout rate. His 29.9 K% puts him in the bottom 10 in the majors. While it would stand as the worst rate of his career, Bradley’s penchant for striking out isn’t a huge leap from his career 24.5 K%. Bradley is a career .233 hitter so his batting average will never be the envy of the league but the increase in strikeouts isn’t enough to explain why his average has dipped this much.
It’s also worth noting that Bradley’s 10.4 BB% is above his career level and league average, suggesting the strikeout rate will drift back toward his career rate.
It remains to be seen if hitting homers in consecutive games will be the spark that ignites a hitting streak but we’ve seen this from Bradley before. There’s no reason to believe he’s not capable of doing so again, especially with this much evidence that his lack of production has been an anomaly.
Bradley will never be a great hitter – perhaps not even a good one. With his glove, he doesn’t need to be. The Red Sox will be content with Bradley hitting at a decent level. Don’t’ be a liability in the lineup. Don’t be awful. We know he’s capable of hurdling that low bar and we’re finally seeing signs that he’s taking that leap.