Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is quietly on a blistering hot streak
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. goes overlooked due to his poor overall numbers but he’s been one of the league’s best hitters lately.
Nobody looks at a guy hitting .220 with single-digit homers and says to themselves, “You know, he should be hitting in the middle of the batting order.” Yet that’s where the Boston Red Sox put Jackie Bradley Jr. during their recent series against the Chicago White Sox, slotting him in as high as fifth. You would have assumed that manager Alex Cora was drunk when filling out his lineup card if he had done that a few weeks ago when Bradley was struggling to reach the Mendoza Line but the move was warranted based on his recent production.
Bradley Jr. has emerged from his early-season slumber with a scorching month of June, at least by his standards. He’s hitting .275/.396/.525 with four home runs and 13 RBI this month.
The turning point that salvaged his season can be traced back to a series in Toronto last month. Bradley Jr. entered the series on May 20 with a putrid .144 batting average and he had yet to hit a home run. He would end up collecting at least one hit in each of the four games against the Blue Jays, including home runs in consecutive games to open the series.
Since May 20, Bradley is hitting .300/.408/.608 with eight home runs and 20 RBI in 35 games. During that span, his 1.017 OPS ranks seventh in the American League. He’s tied for sixth with a .416 wOBA and his 159 wRC+ is eighth. Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts have been getting plenty of buzz lately, and rightfully so, yet Bradley’s bat rates slightly ahead of them in each of these categories during this stretch.
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Bradley Jr. has maintained a walk rate that hovers just over 11.0% during this span, almost identical to his season rate, but he has cut back on the strikeouts. His 21.7 K% over the last 35 games is a notable improvement from his 25.7 K% for the season, which threatens to be his highest strikeout rate since 2015.
A .346 BABIP during this stretch isn’t sustainable but it isn’t ridiculously high, ranking outside the top-25 in the league. If Bradley Jr. is getting a bit lucky of late, he was certainly the victim of bad luck before he started to heat up considering his .280 BABIP for the season is well below his career rate and league-average.
Does that mean this level of production will continue now that his fortunes have changed? Not necessarily. Bradley Jr. has always been a streaky hitter. This is a player who went on an impressive 29-game hitting streak in April-May 2016 only to hit .218 the following month. Bradley Jr.’s bat can be a force when he heats up but he can cool off just as quickly.
While some of Boston’s best bats have fallen short of MVP-caliber expectations, Bradley Jr. has helped keep the offense going the last several weeks. Enjoy the ride because we never know how long it will last but we can no longer overlook how well JBJ is playing right now.