Don’t let Jackie Bradley Jr. get hot. I’ve been saying it for a few years now. Because what happens when his offense is as good as his defense? Well, we win the ALCS thanks to him, advance to the World Series, and win that, too. That’s about as good as it gets.
We can always count on our centerfielder to be clutch in the outfield. His defense is incredible, almost superhuman. When he finally won his first Gold Glove in 2018, people couldn’t believe he’d never won one before. No matter how he’s hitting, he’s always robbing batters. The level of comfort I feel knowing he’s patrolling the outfield has almost reached the level of watching David Ortiz come up to bat and knowing he was probably going to hit one out.
But his bat is another story. As Katy Perry once sang, it’s “hot and cold.” But really hot or really cold, there really is no in-between for him. When JBJ is hot, he’s the ALCS MVP with 10 RBIs on three 2-out extra-base hits (including a grand slam) and the game-tying homer in Game 3 of the World Series that would lead to it becoming the longest game in postseason history. When he’s cold, he’s the guy who’s barely hitting .150.
It’s been like this his entire career, season to season and inside the seasons themselves. Between 2015-2016, he posted a slash line of .262/.345/.489. But in 2017-2018, he was down to .240/.319/.403. In 2016, he hit a career-high 26 home runs; he’s never hit more than 17 in any other season. In 2018, he also started off incredibly cold, but then he exploded in the second half; his hard-hit rate (an exit velocity of 95+ mph off the bat) skyrocketed from 39.7% to 50.4%.
His offensive performance in 2018 was actually much more elite than it seemed. According to Statcast, among 332 qualifying MLB batters with a minimum of 150 batted balls, JBJ ranked 11th with 50.1% hard-hit balls in 2018. On a list in which Yankees slugger Aaron Judge came in first, JBJ placed just a hair ahead of Mookie Betts, who ranked 12th with 50%. Talk about power rankings.
The Red Sox, as a whole, have been hot and cold all season. But as they slowly start to right the ship, Jackie Bradley Jr. has been at the forefront of the offensive resurgence. He started off as one of the worst of the worst: in his first 38 games, his slash line was an abysmal .144/.245/.176. His batting average was the 2nd worst in all of MLB, the 4th worst on-base percentage, and the worst slugging percentage. He had just four extra-base hits, 11 runs scored, and 7 RBIs. A lot of Sox fans were calling for his head.
But whatever switch he flipped, he really flipped it. In his last 27 games, he’s become one of the top hitters in the American League. His line is now .297/.385/.637, the 19th-best batting average in the AL, 14th-best OBP, and 6th-best slugging percentage. He’s hit 7 home runs in less than a month, including home runs in back-to-back games twice. His 17 extra-base hits are the 3rd-most in the AL over those games, and he has 16 runs scored, and 17 RBIs.
The thing that kills me is how many people are dissatisfied with JBJ no matter how he’s doing. When he struggles at the plate, he gets criticized for it. When his bat is hot, people say, “it’s only a matter of time before he slumps again.” So basically, he can’t win no matter how he’s hitting, which is ridiculous.
Worse yet, he’s one of the most humble guys around. There are plenty of athletes who deserve the hate, deserve the criticism, who go around acting cocky and never backing up their big talk with big games. But during Spring Training, when JBJ was asked about finally winning his first Gold Glove last year, he said, “Last year was probably, maybe my worst, in my mind… I think I can get better…” To which any baseball fan with eyeballs was like, “HOW?!”
Technically – TECHNICALLY – he’s right. JBJ had zero Defensive Runs Saved in 2018. According to DRS, he actually cost the Sox a pair of runs. But if that’s what qualifies as the worst season of his career, I’ll take it any day of the week, and I’m sure most ball clubs would, too. Any batter he’s ever robbed of a home run would rather have him on their team than out there in centerfield, keeping their offensive numbers down.
To sum up, with regards to JBJ’s offense, this is just a not-so-friendly reminder that there are nine men in this lineup, and a fair few of them should be held to a higher standard of offensive performance. Mookie Betts, for example, is the reigning AL MVP and AL Batting Champ, and he’s only hitting .266. His offensive inconsistencies in the postseason and now through the majority of this spring are far more worrisome and frustrating, in my opinion. There is only one JBJ who can make those robberies in centerfield; there are nine batters in the lineup who should be hitting better.
So try to be happy, Sox fans. We’re getting the good stuff from Jackie Bradley Jr. I’m just so glad there are a few bats putting this team on their backs. Somebody has to do it, why not JBJ?
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Photo: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports