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Should the Red Sox Be Worried About Jackie Bradley Jr?

(Photo Cedit: Boston Globe)
(Photo Credit: Boston Globe)

2016 was an overall successful season for Jackie Bradley Jr. The Red Sox center fielder hit .267/.349/.486 with 26 home runs and 30 doubles. He made his first All-Star appearance along with 5 of his teammates behind a 29-game hitting streak and great defense in center. For most players, this would be an extremely promising season for a young player like Bradley, and all things considered, it was. However, Bradley saw his fair share of low points last season, and his successful 2016 stat line was kept afloat largely because of the aforementioned 29-game hitting streak.

Bradley got off to a slow start; through 17 games he was hitting .222 with 0 home runs. Then, on April 24th, in a 12 inning win over Houston, his 29-game hitting streak began. Bradley put the league on notice, and over the course of the streak, he hit .415/.488/.781 with 8 home runs, 9 doubles, 3 triples and 30 RBI before the streak came to an end on May 25th. The streak catapulted Bradley into a starting role for the American League All-Star team. Through 2 months of the season, Bradley looked like a true young talent in the MLB. Going into June, he sported a .331/.409/.601 line with 26 XBH. However, through the final four months of the season, Bradley crumbled, hitting .237/.321/.432 and higher than a 2.5 K/BB rate. To top it off, Bradley went 1-10 with 7 strikeouts in the ALCS. For the Red Sox, Bradley’s end to the season should not only be something to keep an eye on, but maybe something to worry about going into 2017.

To start, Bradley’s luck simply ran out after the first two months. Through May, he had a BABIP of .365, including an absolutely insane .462 BABIP during his hitting streak. From June to October, however, Bradley’s BABIP fell back down to .281, proving he was indeed human. Now, to be fair this number is below his career BABIP of .299, so this could point to some bad luck in the second half of the season. Nonetheless, it is still closer than the .365 BABIP that he hit in the first two months, and most likely closer to the production that he is capable of.

However, Bradley’s sudden drop-off isn’t just lucked related. For the most part, it can be attributed to the adaptation of opposing pitchers, which is very common when young players first become respected hitters around the league. From the time he became a full time starter in Boston (7/29/15) to the end of the 2016 season, this is how Bradley has fared against different pitch types:

  wFB/C wSL/C wCT/C wCB/C wCH/C
PV/100 1.37 0.98 3.27 1.75 -1.85

The following are Bradley’s pitch type linear weights. Via FanGraphs, this is “the total runs above average that a hitter has contributed against that pitch, standardizing the values on a ‘per 100 pitch’ basis,” since certain pitches are thrown more often than other. Example: “wFB/C represents the average amount of runs that hitter produced against 100 fastballs thrown.” Here, it is clear to see which pitches JBJ likes to see and which ones he isn’t a fan of.

Well, from the start of July to the end of 2016, Bradley saw a lot less of his favorite pitches:

Dates FB% SL% CT% CB% CH%
4/5 – 6/31 51.70% 12.90% 7.20% 13.10% 11.60%
7/1 – 10/2 52.20% 15.60% 5.90% 9.10% 13.50%

Curveball usage against Bradley dropped over 30% over the last 3 months of the season, and pitchers threw the cutter (his favorite pitch) 18% less. Slider usage saw a 20% bump, and his least favorite pitch, the changeup, got thrown to him 16% more. Bradley didn’t take well to the changes in pitch frequency in the last 3 months of season and his production suffered severely. These types of changes throughout a season are normal as pitchers learn more about hitters and Bradley can expect much more of the same in 2017.

The Red Sox organization has committed to Jackie Bradley Jr. being their everyday center fielder, and unless a trade offer comes around that simply cannot be refused, the time to trade JBJ has seemingly passed. The burden is now on his shoulders; he needs to show the Red Sox that although pitchers have stopped throwing his favorite pitches, he can still hit. In 2016, he failed to do just that. 2017 will be the ultimate test for JBJ and his ability at the plate. For the Red Sox, hopefully he can show glimpses of greatness yet again and not prove to be a weak link in the 9-hole.

Connor Kurcon
Boston, MA. Lifelong Sox fan. Twitter: @ckurcon

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