Who is Jackie Bradley Jr.? This has been a topic of discussion that has been a roller coaster ride over the past three seasons. Bradley has shown flashes of brilliance over his four-year career and he has also shown long stretches of play to show that isn’t even a capable Major League Baseball player. So, just what can be expected from this guy? We’ll discuss that in today’s post.
When Bradley came up in 2013, Red Sox Nation saw a glimpse of his potential which gave him a starting position in the Red Sox lineup heading into the 2014 season. Bradley showed that he was more than capable of playing center field in the big leagues. In fact, many experts determined that he was the best Red Sox defensive center fielder of all time. However, in 164 games played in 2013 and 2014, Bradley hit just .196 with 4 home runs and 40 RBI. Not going to cut it. Questions began to surface on Bradley’s potential and, at age 24, Bradley was beginning to be discussed as a potential backup player, a tradable commodity, or a player who needed more seasoning in the minor leagues. The thought was that the 2015 season would be a big key to Bradley’s future.
In the first half of the 2015 season, Bradley played just nine games for the Red Sox and batted just .133. He was sent down to Pawtucket. At this point, it was becoming more apparent that this player possibly just wasn’t a big league hitter. When you have three consecutive seasons of hitting below .200, that’s a pretty good sample size. The Red Sox performance on the field was just about as bad as Bradley’s batting average. Because of this, the Red Sox went with a youth movement in the second half of the season. Bradley got another shot and it possibly could have been his last one in a Red Sox uniform. Bradley had to show some offense or this was going to be it.
Bradley began to hit in August of 2015. In fact, he hit at an elite level. He went from a guy with a major hole in his swing to a guy who was driving the baseball all over the park. He hit for average. He hit for power. And, of course, his defense was elite. Red Sox fans got to see the potential of Bradley first hand. In the second half of the season, he hit .267 with 9 home runs and 41 RBI in 60 games. His OPS in the second half was an impressive .891. Bradley did enough to earn a starting spot in 2016. However, the general thought was that we still didn’t know what to expect from this player.
Now we get to 2016. Bradley was given the starting center fielder’s job. Were we going to get the .196 hitter? The guy in the second half of last year? Or something in between? The general thought was if he could just hit .250 at the bottom of the order, that would be sufficient given his defensive ability.
Through the first 45 games of the MLB season, here are Bradley’s numbers along with his rankings in the American League.
Batting Average: .346 (2nd)
Hits: 54 (10th)
Triples: 4 (1st)
RBI: 33 (6th)
OBP: .415 (1st)
Slugging %: .622 (2nd)
OPS: 1.037 (2nd)
Think about this. In 164 games in 2013 and 2014, Bradley had 40 RBI. This year, he has 33 RBI in 45 games.
Simply put, Bradley has been the best overall player in the American League through the first 45 games. He’s a top MVP candidate. Given his performance at the end of last season along with what he has done so far this year, it’s time to say that this guy not only can play at a big league level, but he can be an All Star caliber player. Is he likely to keep up this current pace? No. However, he is showing he can hit the ball all over the field for average and power while closing on a 100 game stretch of putting up solid numbers dating back to last season.
At age 26, Jackie Bradley Jr. has figured it out, folks. What a joy it’s been to watch his progression. This is a great story. The world thought that Jackie Bradley Jr. could not hit MLB pitching. Now he’s doing it better than anyone in the American League…
Well, besides David Ortiz, of course.