The Boston Red Sox have one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball when Jackie Bradley Jr. patrols center field. His bat, however, is one of the worst in the MLB and his approach at the plate has hit rock bottom. On Sunday, Bradley’s golden sombrero (0-4, 4 Ks) raised his hitless streak to 0-35 including 18 strikeouts.
This past weekend we saw some great defensive plays from the 24-year-old. He has the highest defensive WAR of all qualified MLB center fielders and leads all outfielders in baseball with 13 assists. Eight of those assists have created double plays, which is five more than any other outfielder in baseball. Who would pass up the chance to have him play in their outfield?
There are 150 batters in all of baseball who are qualified for the batting title. Of those 150, Bradley’s .211 average ranks 147th, only ahead of B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, and Chris Davis. Those players can hit for some pop though, so there might be some tolerance for a low average. Bradley, however, hasn’t hit for power at all this season.
Out of those same 150 hitters, there are five players with one home run and one player with zero home runs. Three of those players are hitting over .300 and the other two are hitting .267 and .275. If you can’t hit for power, you should be hitting for average, but Bradley hasn’t figured out how to do either. Not surprisingly, these numbers translate into the worst slugging percentage (.289) and worst OPS (.571) in the MLB.
In a nutshell, Bradley may be the best defensive player at his position and the worst hitter at any position. How should the Red Sox combat this problem?
One option could be to let him play out the rest of the season and hope for the best. The Sox aren’t exactly in a playoff hunt and Bradley could benefit from a whole season under his belt.
Another option could be to send Bradley back down to Pawtucket to work on his swing while having Mookie Betts, another young center field option for the Red Sox, see some everyday action at the MLB level.
The third would be to flat out bench him and have Brock Holt play center field. The Sox lineup would be benefited, but Bradley wouldn’t really be able to improve if he doesn’t see at-bats regularly.
Internally, there’s a chance the Red Sox have already made up their minds on what they want to do for next season. Perhaps they plan on trading Bradley and have their eyes set on an offensively-built lineup. The problem is, at this point, the return on Bradley would be far lower than it was even a few months ago.
If Bradley can raise his average and hit a few home runs, his value could go up and perhaps the Red Sox will still want him as their every day center fielder next season. Bradley was showing some promise in early July, when he had hits in 11 of 13 games, including six multi-hit games. His average rose from .208 to .234 and he almost caught the struggling Xander Bogaerts as his average was plummeting. Bradley managed a .278 average in July despite starting his hitless streak on July 26th. If Bradley could find out how to hit .260-.270, maybe even as low as .250, the Red Sox could warrant their decision to play him. In this all but lost season, the Red Sox main priority shouldn’t be winning per say, but instead, figuring out how to improve players like Jackie Bradley Jr. so they can help the team win in 2015.