Jackie Bradley Jr. has not been cooperating.
For most of the last three weeks, Bradley has been awful at the plate. A 17-game stretch saw him go 5-for-55, striking out in over a third of his plate appearances. Even coming as that stretch did after a 4-for-4 performance and a generally strong start to the month, his September as a whole was starting to look awfully dismal. It was the perfect time, in short, to talk about what makes Bradley such a safe bet. The perfect time to mention that, even in the process of a truly horrendous slump, he was still proving a valuable player through his glove alone.
But as I said before, Jackie Bradley Jr. has not been cooperating. His slump ended on Monday with a home run and a pair of walks, leading right into a solid 2-for-4 performance in Tuesday night's game. If Bradley were to perform at the level he has in September over the course of a full season, he'd be a roughly 4-win player by Fangraphs' numbers. But that's in no small part because he's already back to hitting to an .800 OPS on the month. A month where, again, he went 5-for-55.
The questions surrounding Bradley's bat are not completely answered at this point. He does seem to be a streaky player, capable of extreme highs and lows. He has strikeout (28%) and walk (11%) rates reminiscent of big-time power hitters, and has certainly shown some surprising pop despite that never being his calling card with 19 long balls on the year between Pawtucket and Boston. His BABIP is no longer at truly unsustainable levels, though, and if the effect of that slump was to bring Bradley down into a more realistic range should he sustain the aforementioned pop, then Red Sox fans can't be disappointed with the bat it's left behind. Even adjusted for Fenway Park, Bradley has been 30% better than league average, leaving him close behind teammate David freaking Ortiz. The sample size isn't quite what you'd want, but hell, 236 plate appearances is far from nothing.
But the point of this was not supposed to be what Bradley can do with an .865 OPS. It was supposed to be what Bradley can do without that. And up until two days ago, September was giving us a pretty good look at that. Even without the otherworldly bat he'd suddenly brought to the table, Bradley was valuable. He wasn't on a 4-win pace, no, but you might be surprised to find he was still on track to be something in the vicinity of a 2.5 fWAR player at his lowest point. And that's not taking his whole season into account, just his (at-the-time) disappointing September.
Is this the worst Jackie Bradley can be, then? I think that might be pushing it, a little. It's true, Bradley has been otherworldly in the field this month, and that's kind of his natural state. When someone tells you he's the best defensive player they've ever seen, you don't assume hyperbole. But even for Bradley, September has been something else. It seems like not a game goes by where he doesn't make a highlight-reel catch. This 100-foot grab from Tuesday's win honestly borders on the mundane given what he's done this month. He won't always be this productive defensively month-in and month-out simply because the hitters won't always give him enough nearly-impossible fly balls to run down like lazy pop-ups.
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Frankly, after his insane run through August, this slow September might have been the best possible thing for Bradley. The Red Sox have seen him go on a tear before, but only in the minor leagues, or during spring training. What August proved was that he has the capability to do it against the toughest opponents during a month which can't be passed off as practice. It was hugely important proof of concept for the young outfielder, but also just a little too...unreal. Too impossible and full of red flags to be fully comfortable with it.
Now, after a rough few weeks, Bradley still looks like a very good player, but importantly a very good, entirely believable player. If he can finish the season with five solid games, he can even show the ability to survive that first dose of reality after the high of August. If all this serves to identify Bradley as a streaky player, well, that just makes it that much easier to overlook a potentially rough start in 2016. If the first couple weeks don't go all that well next year, it won't be Bradley proving 2015 was a fluke, but Bradley proving to be a streaky player once more. If when all is said and done he winds up with another performance like he's had this season, it won't matter all that much if it comes with two bad weeks here, and three excellent weeks there.