There has been some concern that, if Jackie Bradley Jr. is to start the year with the Red Sox, that his defensive talents will be wasted in Fenway's cramped left field quarters. It's a fair question to ask: Carl Crawford had the same concerns, and in his short time in Boston, didn't seem to field nearly as well as he did while with the Tampa Bay Rays. However, Red Sox senior advisor Bill James doesn't think Bradley would run into the same situation, simply because he and Crawford are two very different defensive players, at different stages of their respective careers.
From Evan Drellich at MassLive.com, here's another Boston front office analyst, Tom Tippett, discussing Crawford's defense:
Bill argued that Fenway Park would mostly negate Carl Crawford's defensive value because he'd be playing 20 feet closer to home plate and reaction time would be diminished and his skills would to some degree be wasted in that environment.
I argued the opposite. I argued that we still play half our games on the road, so at least half of his defensive value is still there. And then I did a study showing the distribution of batted balls around Fenway, and concluded that, for the medium and shallow balls, he would still have his defensive ability. And although his range might be reduced and he's playing closer to home plate, so would everybody else's range be reduced. So, relative to other players we could play out there, his range was still going to be better. And I concluded that we still retained I think 85 or 90 percent of his defensive value in that environment.
Tippett points out that the samples are small, but the early (and only) looks suggest that James was correct, and that Crawford's instincts and jumps could not make up for the drop in the importance of his speed. Bradley is not Crawford, however. Bradley is not a burner in the outfield, but is instead an outfielder with excellent positioning, jumps, route taking -- these are all things that are important when playing what is more of a reactionary position of left field at Fenway.
James also points out that, given Bradley is not an established major-league player, but instead a prospect looking to work his way onto the club, that he might be more willing to do what it takes to adjust to left at Fenway than Crawford, or even Shane Victorino, Boston's current right fielder who is possibly a worse defender than Bradley at this stage in both of their careers.
Both points are intriguing, and it seems Boston's mistake wasn't in assuming that a high-quality defensive outfielder would be wasted in left. The problem had more to do with what made that outfielder's defense so good in the first place. Bradley's very different, and might be the fit that proves both James and Tippett right about left in the end.
Of course, he'll have to actually make the big-league roster for that to happen, and we won't know about the outcome of that for at least one more day. Should he come up mid-season instead, however, at least we've got this potentially positive thought to consider.
Also, this is as good of a place as any to point out that (and congratulate) Evan Drellich has moved from his RedSox.com role to MassLive.com, where he will be the Red Sox beat writer. He's already produced a few pieces you should check out, including this James on Bradley one.
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