Red Sox right fielder: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Red Sox fans could be forgiven if they thought they were done with the Jackie Bradley Jr. experience. After seven years of up-and-down performance in which he would look like a perennial All-Star one day and the worst hitter in baseball the next, Bradley departed for Milwaukee after the 2020 season. The results were not pretty.
The best thing you can say about Bradley’s lone season with the Brewers is that he brought his glove and legs with him. Bradley Jr’s 12 DRS was his highest total since 2017, while his sprint speed is virtually unchanged from his rookie season. No matter how inept his bat gets, Bradley will always have a spot on a major league roster as long as his glove and baserunning remain above average.
Bradley, however, is testing the limits of just low his bat can go. By nearly any metric, he was the worst hitter in baseball in 2021. He ranked in the first percentile in XWOBA, XBA, and expected slugging. His walk rate fell to a career-low level, while his strikeout rate climbed nearly eight percent from 2020. Bradley has had stretches of inept offense throughout his career, but this was the first time such a funk has lasted the full season.
The biggest difference between Bradley’s offensive performance in 2020 and 2021 was his ability to hit fastballs. Bradley was downright dominant against heaters in the shortened campaign, batting .375 and slugging .605 in at-bats ending with fastballs. In 2021, however, those numbers fell to .187 and .296. Bradley’s game has always been dependent on his ability to hit fastballs, as he is pretty much useless against any other pitch, and as he enters his age 32 season, there’s little hope that his bat-speed will return.
Is there a chance that Bradley Jr. is rejuvenated by his return to Boston and returns to his pre-Milwaukee ways? Sure. But all signs point to Bradley Jr. being one of the worst hitters in baseball, and it’s far more likely that he is replaced by someone like Jarren Duran at midseason than that he rediscovers his hitting stroke.
Stat Predictions: .202/.284/.338, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 0.1 WAR