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Are Jackie Bradley's reverse splits sustainable?

Jackie Bradley has been much better against left-handed pitching over his career, but can we really expect that to continue?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a hectic week in Red Sox Land, with a couple of major and unexpected lineup decisions being sent down from John Farrell. On Thursday, headlines were made when Travis Shaw was named the starting third baseman over Pablo Sandoval. Prior to that, he declared that Brock Holt will be playing left field against right-handed pitching, a move that will significantly cut into Rusney Castillo’s playing time. Something that’s somewhat up in the air, it seems, is who Holt’s platoon partner will be. My initial assumption was that it’d be Castillo, but based on the comments from others close to the team, it’s more likely that it’ll be Chris Young. The mistake I made was my belief that the plan upon signing Young was to platoon him with Jackie Bradley, but that was apparently a misinterpretation.

All of this made me start thinking about Bradley and a potential platoon with him. On the one hand, I am among the lowest on his bat going forward, so platooning him and getting him out of the lineup on a semi-regular basis wouldn’t be the end of the world for me. On the other hand, he’s shown some defined reverse splits over his career, so a platoon wouldn’t really make sense. Of course, we’re talking about a relatively short career, so I wanted to take a look at those reverse splits and see if there’s something real here, or if they’re just a mirage.

It seems reasonable to start with the simple platoon splits and build out from there. Over his career, Bradley has 525 plate appearances against right-handed pitching and 260 against lefties. Against the former, he is hitting .200/.275/.337 with a 65 wRC+. With a southpaw on the mound, he’s hitting .238/.320/.372, good for a 92 wRC+. Neither slash-line truly jumps off the page, but there’s a clear and noticeable difference here.

Digging a little deeper, it’s pretty obvious that the difference in performance has almost everything to do with batting average on balls in play. Over his career, he has a .335 BABIP against lefties and a .263 mark against righties. Against both handed pitchers, Bradley strikes out just over 28 percent of the time. Against both handed pitchers, Bradley has an Isolated Power right around .135. He actually has a better walk rate against right-handed pitchers, drawing a free pas 9.1 percent of the time versus 7.7 percent against southpaws.

So, when we hear that there’s a BABIP distinction, we could think that it’s definitely a fluke, but it’s worth wondering whether or not he’s just better at making solid contact against lefties. He wouldn’t be the first to be able to carry a high BABIP. This is the part of the show in which I mention the limitations of batted ball data and how they can be inconsistent from source to source, but I use them anyway. In this case, I’ll be using the data from Fangraphs. Looking at these numbers, there’s little reason to believe this BABIP disparity is at all sustainable. Bradley actually hits more line drives against right-handed pitching as well as more hard contact, according to Fangraphs’ hard/medium/soft percentages. To be fair, Brooks Baseball has similar data to reflect that, as you can see in the following chart.

He does hit a few more ground balls against lefties, and those lead to more hits than fly balls. It’s not nearly enough of a difference to justify the BABIP disparity, however.

The one point that comes out in favor of the reverse splits is the fact that Bradley has a much more balanced, all-fields approach against lefties. He hits 39 percent of his batted balls back up the middle against southpaws, with 34 and 27 percent going to right and left fields, respectively. Against righties, however, he’s quite pull happy, with a whopping 44 percent of his batted balls heading towards right field. Just 32 percent of his balls against righties head back up the middle and 24 percent go to left field.

The final part of this I wanted to look at was to see if there’s any specific pitch he’s feeding off against left-handed pitching. According to Brooks Baseball’s data, that’s not the case over his career. Compared to his line drive rates against right-handed pitching, the only pitches that produce different rates against lefties are four seamers and sinkers. However, he actually gets far fewer liners on four seamers against southpaws. Beyond that, he has success against changeups versus same-handed pitchers, but seeing them is not a common occurrence.

None of this is to say that the Red Sox should be platoon Bradley at this point. That’s merely the though process that led me to this research. With that being said, they should be open to it if struggles start to show up in the first part of the season. It’s possible they’ll be wary since he carried a reverse split for so long, but all of the deeper data points suggest it’s not even close to sustainable.