Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Jackie Bradley Jr.
This past season was a strange, inconsistent one for Jackie Bradley Jr., a player who has had a strange, inconsistent career. The end result was not exactly what we had hoped for, but there were certainly some positives that we can take away from his 2017 campaign. First and foremost, of course, was his defense in center field. For as inconsistent as he can be at the plate, Bradley has a solid enough floor due to his superb glove. He does a little bit of everything in center field, and he showed everything off in 2017. That includes but is not limited to his cannon for an arm — albeit one that has accuracy issues at times — as well incredible range and athleticism. Bradley both difficult plays look easy and the seemingly impossible seem, well, possible.
In addition to his defense, Bradley did have some bright spots at the plate, just not as much as we may have liked to see. For one thing, he was a solid presence in the lineup for the first half of the season. Through the first half of the season, he was hitting .280/.363/.490 for a 122 wRC+. To put it simply, he was the player we were all looking for in that first half. He was hitting for power (.210 Isolated Power) as well as showing off strong plate discipline with a walk rate just under 11 percent and a strikeout rate just under 20 percent.
Another encouraging part of his season was his performance against left-handed pitching, as he posted reverse splits. This is atypical of Bradley, but it was nice to see him hit southpaws so well particularly with the struggles for Chris Young. On the year, he hit .276/.361/.405 for a 105 wRC+. It should be noted that this came in 133 plate appearances, so whether or not this is sustainable moving forward is certainly up for debate.
Finally, Bradley was another strong presence on the basepaths for the Red Sox, representing one of the positives in this area for a team that was a total mixed bag overall. According to Fangraphs’ metric, he was worth over five runs on the basepaths and according to Baseball Prospectus he was worth a little under four runs. These numbers may not sound incredibly impressive, but it puts him well above-average.
There was a lot to be disappointed in with Bradley’s season, but most of it boils down to him being a shell of himself in the second half. After the All-Star break, he hit .204/.277/.302 for a 51 wRC+. He was particularly bad in September, a month in which he hit just .172/.238/.280 for a wRC+ of 30. Only four qualified hitters were worse in the month, which surely was not the note on which anyone wanted his season to end.
There were a few specific things that happened with his season, beginning with his strikeout rate. Over the course of his career, strikeouts have been the biggest issue for Bradley when he has struggled to get going at the plate. His final rate of 22 percent isn’t too bad, particularly in today’s game, but his second-half rate of 26 percent was not encouraging. Perhaps even worse was his walk rate of just under seven percent, a significant drop off from his first half performance. Then, there was the matter of his power, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Finally, we have the flip side of his reverse platoon splits. While Bradley was encouraging against left-handed pitching, he struggled mightily against righties. Considering how many more righties there are in the league than lefties, the negative in this case definitely outweighs the positive. In 408 plate appearances against righties in 2017, Bradley slashed .235/.311/.402 for an 84 wRC+. Frankly, he needs to be much, much better in this area.
The Big Question
After another year, it still isn’t clear what to think of Bradley as a power hitter. As we’ve seen at times, he goes on tears at the plate and a big part of that is him crushing extra-base hits on a regular basis. It’s beyond clear that he has the capability of hitting for big-time power. Still, his end-of-year ISO was just .158 and that is not what we are looking from him at this point in his career. As I mentioned above, much of this was due to a second half that ended with a terrible .098 ISO. It’s not fair to say there is no hope for him to consistently hit for power anymore, but with each passing year it is looking more and more like we’ll have to deal with Bradley being an up-and-down hitter, particularly in the power department.
Looking ahead to 2018
Bradley is a fascinating case for 2018, largely because it’s not clear if he will still be with the Red Sox again. As for what to expect from his performance, as you can probably glean from the above that I have no idea how to answer that. I won’t pretend that I will. As for his status with the Red Sox, I don’t believe by any stretch that they have to trade him. That being said, if they decide to add two big hitters to the lineup, the most likely scenario is them adding an outfielder (hello J.D. Martinez) and a first baseman. In that scenario, they would have to move one of their current outfielders, and Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi almost certainly aren’t going anywhere. That just leaves Bradley, and while it would be sad to see him and his defense leave, they could probably get a sizeable haul. If pressed, I would say a trade is a real possibility, though I would put the chances below 50 percent.