It’s always easy around this time of year to overreact to a month of baseball action. Over the middle of the season, a month of bad baseball is certainly noticeable, but we have other months to which we can compare what we’re seeing. For April, which just ended in case you forgot how calendars work, that’s all we’ve got. We know it’s just a month of baseball and it’s open to small sample size noise, but when there’s no other baseball to look at to make us feel better, at least in the same calendar year, it’s harder to resist the urge to overreact. Of course, there’s also the fact that sometimes these struggles are sustained as the year goes on! That’s what makes managing baseball rosters, both on the field and in the front office, so dang hard! It gets even harder when the subject at hand is notoriously streaky and seemingly flips the switch every year from being one of the worst hitters in the game to being a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. You just never know when it’s going to happen.
Obviously, based on that description as well as the big ol’ picture at the top of this page, I’m talking about Jackie Bradley Jr. We’ve all been frustrated with the Red Sox center fielder this year, and he’s been tough to watch with the bat in his hands all season long. After another 0-fer on Thursday, the former first round pick is hitting just .149/.236/.181 over 107 plate appearances. That’s good (bad?) enough for a 13 wRC+, a mark that indicates he’s been 87 percent worse than the league-average hitter to start this season. You won’t be shocked to learn that is the worst wRC+ among all qualified hitters in baseball.
There’s a lot going on here, as you don’t perform this poorly because of just a single issue. Bradley is striking out like he did when he was first called up to the majors, and we all remember how poorly that went. Per Fangraphs’ plate discipline numbers, he’s making the least amount of contact he has at any other point in his career. On top of that, when he is making contact it’s not doing much of anything. Just last week we talked about Bradley getting killed by the shift, and it hasn’t stopped. He’s not hitting the ball the other way and he’s hitting everything into the ground. Folks, that’s not a great strategy and very little of what we’ve seen lately suggests things are going to turn around soon.
On top of that, his defense hasn’t been its normal otherworldly self. Granted, this is all anecdotal because I’m not going to cite month-long samples of defensive metrics, but he doesn’t seem to be making the normal amazing plays. Part of this is certainly my dumb human brain holding him to an impossible standard thanks to what he did last year. He’s still clearly a plus out there with the glove in his hand, but he’s not making every play this year. Instead, he’s making all of the good ones instead of all of the otherworldly ones. On the list of issues with Jackie Bradley Jr. right now this ranks pretty damn low, but it’s worth mentioning.
So, we know the center fielder is struggling. None of that is new information. The question is what can be done about it. Clearly there are some coaching solutions and some tweaks he needs to try to figure this stuff out. In the meantime, Alex Cora and the Red Sox can’t wait around for this to happen. If the offense were clicking on all cylinders otherwise, that would be one thing. But right now it doesn’t seem like there have been many days if any in which everyone is hitting. That can lead to games’ like Thursday where Boston has to settle for a small lead that can be erased by just one or two mistakes.
To put it simply, Bradley can’t be an everyday player right now. He shouldn’t be abandoned completely, because as mentioned above he’s always liable to turn it around on a dime and go on an extreme hot streak. You want to give him some time to try and figure that out. However, there also needs to be times in which he is on the bench and coming in as a defensive replacement. The mechanics of this are pretty simple. The defense would/will take a hit with J.D. Martinez moving into right field and Mookie Betts moving out to center field. However, it gives them a chance to improve their infield defense by putting Michael Chavis in the designated hitter slot. For now, that means Tzu-Wei Lin in the lineup, which may not improve things that much. However, when Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Núñez get back, there’s more upside at the plate with this alignment.
It’s tough watching Jackie Bradley Jr. when he’s like this, largely because we know there’s more in that bat. He should be better and he can be better. It’s a fine line to walk between giving him a chance to snap out of his funk and giving your team the best chance to win. Right now, having Bradley in the lineup everyday is not giving yourself the best chance to win. His career trends indicate giving up on him completely would be foolish and that he’ll turn it around at some point. While we wait for that to happen, we should see more alignments with Martinez in the outfield, Chavis as the DH and Bradley on the bench, defensive downgrades be damned.