The Boston Red Sox 2018 season has been hugely successful in just about every way imaginable. The team leads the league in wins, home runs, boasts a strong rotation, an underrated bullpen, and a powerful lineup. However, there has been one major flaw in amongst all the success. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is in the midst of a season to forget.
Bradley has been one of the worst hitters in baseball, compiling an ugly .165/.267/.252 slash line thus far. He looks helpless at the plate, and cannot make contact with fastballs to save his life. Bradley has proved capable of hitting at a major league level in the past, so what can the Sox do to bring their center fielder back to life?
JBJ has been here before
Jackie is in the midst of a horrifically ugly stretch, nobody is denying that. Bradley is striking out 28.1% of the time, has an isolated power of just .087, and a wRC+ of just 44. All of those stats are undeniably bad, and his lack of contact makes it hard to put this all on bad luck. Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe there’s a good hitter lying beneath those stats.
However, Bradley has been through stretches like this before and has managed to come out on top. Take a look at his numbers from 2014 until August 8th, 2015. During that year and a half stretch, Bradley posted an objectively horrible .188/.264/.253 slash line to go along with a .066 isolated power and a 43 wRC+. It’s hard to believe, but Bradley was arguably even worse back then.
Then, all of a sudden, Bradley came to life. The struggling center fielder finally figured it out, dominating at the plate for the remainder of 2015. His continued his dominance into 2016, putting together an otherworldly 29-game hit streak. All in all, over 264 plate appearances, Bradley posted a .322/.391/.619 slash line, .297 isolated power, and a 167 wRC+. Bradley turned himself from one of the worst hitters in baseball into one of the best. He had a high BABIP (.390), but everything else about this performance was sustainable.
If Bradley has done it before, then he surely can do it again. Now age 29, JBJ should be at the peak of his career, and he has all the tools to be a big league hitter. So what was the big thing that jumpstarted his 2015 season?
A minor detour
The answer to the Jackie Bradley Jr.dilemma lies with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Midway through 2015, Bradley was sent down to AAA to iron out his swing and straighten out his head. It worked wonders for him then, and there’s no reason it can’t happen again.
Watching Bradley at the plate is watching someone trapped in his own mind. This early-season slump has clearly gotten to Bradley, and it looks as though the issue is in his head as much as anything. Hitting major league pitches requires lightning-fast reflexes, and once you’re at the plate you can’t afford to slow down and think about your swing.
Right now, Bradley is thinking too much at the plate. This is evident by his increased strikeout rate, and by the fact that he just cannot catch up to fastballs. Because he’s worried about every little mechanic in his swing, he doesn’t move fast enough to react to pitches.
This is where Pawtucket comes in. Bradley needs a change of scenery, and sending him away from the spotlight would be a gift. In the minors, Jackie would be able to clear his head, find his swing, and get ready for a return to the majors.
I know it sounds crazy to believe in a guy with such terrible numbers, but he’s done it before. Will he come back and get another 29-game hit streak. Absolutely not. However, his defense justifies a spot in the lineup if he can just be a league-average hitter. History repeats itself all the time, and hopefully, Jackie can find success through the minors again.
What to Do if Jackie Gets Back?
This next section is all purely speculative, as there’s no way to know if Bradley ever will find the old form that’s eluded him for so long. However, let’s assume that he does. What should the Red Sox do if Bradley comes back as a solid, if unspectacular, hitter?
The answer to that depends on when he comes back. Jackie’s established himself as a very streaky player, and even if he does find his old form, he’ll almost certainly lose it by a years time. Unless the Red Sox think he can be fixed for good, 2018 should be Bradleys last year with the Red Sox.
Knowing this, the Sox need to find the perfect time to sell Bradley. Trading him now would be giving him away for pennies on the dollar, and bad value trades are the fastest way for a franchise to become irrelevant. Send him to the minors and see how long it takes for him to find his swing. If he makes it back and gives a solid month of production before the trade deadline, deal him. This team could use another bullpen arm or a catcher, and Bradley’s trade value could be high enough for him to warrant that type of a player.
Should Bradley not find his form before the trade deadline, carry him the rest of the way. With any luck, Jackie will find his swing as the Sox approach the playoff push. The Sox will surely be one of the big contenders, and hopefully, a strong finish by Bradley could boost his stock in the off-season.
One of the streakiest hitters in baseball
Anyone willing to outright give up on Jackie Bradley Jr. has way too much of a recency bias. He was a solid major league hitter as recently as last year, and he has two and a half years of evidence to show he’s capable of making a major league impact. Give him some time in Pawtucket and let him find his swing again.
In that same vein, anyone who thinks Bradley can consistently be the guy from late 2015 is fooling themselves. Ever since coming into the majors, Jackie has been one of the streakiest hitters in baseball. You can’t rely on a bat that disappears for weeks and sometimes months on end.
There’s no rush to get rid of JBJ, so wait to sell him at the right moment. Trading him now is terrible value, but keeping him in the majors is wasting a roster spot. All signs point to the minors for Bradley, and right now it’s the best thing for both JBJ and the Red Sox.