Choosing a favorite player is somewhere between the easiest thing in the world and, in classic Internet/Twitter/my brain fashion, a protracted epistemological battle between whatever you do or do not mean by "favorite." I’m here to tell you that no matter how you do it, Jackie Bradley Jr. should be your favorite player, because he is mine and you should be like me.
As you are likely aware, Bradley is on one of his trademark blistering hot streaks, this time to the tune of an 18-game hitting streak. He has done this before and fallen back to Earth -- hard -- but the more it happens, and as he enters his prime, there are real reasons to think that it will happen often enough to make his bat valuable, even before you get the excellent defense. The combination of this and other factors means you should like him as much as I do.
That's quite a bit. He’s valuable to the Red Sox, too, as he basically earns the league minimum. This is a double-edged sword for his long-term future with the club, especially given the hot-on-one-side, cold-on-the-other tendency of his McDLT bat. He’s a great trade chit if the Sox believe that it will eventually cool down, which, given that he’s batting ninth in the batting order, it figures that they do. This seems hard to ignore.
So let's ignore it! Instead, let’s focus on the inflection point between his perceived value and his actual value, when the latter passes the former, and he becomes a better asset for the Sox than he could be on the non-Trout, i.e., actual trade market. (The only caveat here -- and it’s worth noting -- is that if anyone was going to pry Trout away from the Angels, it would be Dave Dombrowski, and he’s sitting on a pile of someone else’s uncashed winning lottery tickets, of which Bradley is one.)
Anyhoo, no matter what happens, you shouldn’t hold Bradley’s potential trade value against him. Here are the six reasons he should be your best player:
The best players are boring choices
I love David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and if they’re so far and away your favorite player(s) that no one else matters, I respect that. But if another Red Sox fan asked me who my favorite player was and I said one of those guys, it wouldn’t tell them anything about me. They might not be asking for that reason, but the context of the question is everything, and my contextual understanding of it leans a little more bespoke that the Hall of Fame candidates. I’m not looking for one-size-fits-all, and I want my choice -- if it is a choice at all -- to reflect my relationship to baseball aesthetics as much as possible.
Potential is better than real life
There’s a reason that, in college sports, the top 25 lists for the following year are released the day following the previous season’s championship game. It’s the same reason the Baseball Prospectus Annual -- heck, Baseball Prospectus at all -- is a hit, and the same reason Bill Simmons’s unending pie-in-the-sky trade schemes go nowhere except to the bank. By the time the games finally happen, you have to reckon with the players who actually have. Before you do that, they can be anything you dream, be it a solid starting center fielder or a perennial all-star. The thing about your dreams is that they are yours alone, and your favorite player can reflect those dreams pretty vividly, depending on your choice.
They still have to be good
If Josh Rutledge is your favorite player, he’d better be your husband. All respect to the man and his ilk, as they make up about 80 percent of all baseball rosters, but lifelong role players make for great characters in a novel, not great favorite players. In the same vein, if you’re getting hype to see Matt Barnes pitch and you’re not Mrs. Barnes and/or reliever festishest Matt Collins, you might need what tech companies all a "pivot."
Also, David Price is now out of the running. Sad!
They don’t have to hit lefty, but it helps
In running the favorite player experiment through the Red Sox roster, there are a few great options outside of the superstars of yesterday. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are obviously the best choices aside from the top two, and I’d respect your decision to go with either one of them. They’re painfully good.
You probably realized this, but a great number of baseball writers are natural contrarians, so I’m going to go a different way and chop Betts and Bogaerts off my list. I’m a righty, but I’d give my right foot to have been a lefty hitter, provided foot-replacement technology would still allow said lefty hitting to happen.
At this point we’re basically down to Travis Shaw and Bradley as our hipst-- uh, considered -- favorite player options, but I can’t find something great to love about Shaw, outside of the fact he’s not Pablo Sandoval. Bradley is astonishingly great in the outfield, and I appreciate outfield defense more than infield defense, just in terms of its geometry and openness to beautiful plays. Bradley makes such fantastic plays that you don’t even realize they’re beautiful, like a kid in an art museum insisting she could paint a Pollock. Genius is never effortless, but it’s great when it looks that way.
Bradley’s style is so aggressively normcore that I can’t help but love it. I love my John Jaso-types and my Yasiels Puig, but I also love a guy so simple that every fan photo he takes looks shockingly bland. Save the artistry for the field, man. And that beard: That beard is the beard of a 42-year-old. It sure seems like Bradley is competent beyond his years, and the beard is a physical manifestation of that, whether it’s true or not. I believe it’s true, at least, if only because I believe the same thing about myself, and my favorite player, in this instance, is a direct projection of the player I’d love to be.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Bradley is your new favorite baseball player -- at least for as long as he keeps hitting. Let’s hope it never ends.