For most of the first half of the season, Jackie Bradley Jr. was a superstar on defense, and the complete opposite on offense. The defense alone made him a valuable player and one to keep starting, since good defensive center fielders are slowly becoming more and more valuable. He’s the heir to the spot Jacoby Ellsbury vacated, but it seemed like most fans expected the offense to stay roughly the same. Boy, they must’ve been disappointed.
However, his detractors were nothing if not justified. JBJ had just come off a season at Triple-A Pawtucket where he slashed an impressive .275/.374/.469 in 374 PA. That included 26 doubles and a .194 ISO, which emphasized his gap-to-gap contact. As it turned out, life in the majors wasn’t the same. Bradley has to weather his lack of offense for nearly three months, despite being the most vital outfielder on the team.
Lately, there’s been a spark. Over the last 30 days, JBJ is hitting an impressive .318 with a solid .760 OPS. In July alone, JBJ is sporting a great .825 OPS with a 131 wRC. Sure, the numbers will come down when his BABIP drops from July’s .447 mark (even though there’s that amazing 34.2% line drive rate this month), but so far, this is a real improvement on his part. We – as a fanbase, and the Red Sox as an organization – have been waiting for him to catch lightning in a bottle, and this month just might be it. All it took was a few months of playing in the harshest media environment imaginable. A cake walk, right? Right.
What might’ve caused this? Well, it might just be as simple as a change in his batting stance. Here’s what JBJ’s stance was like on June 13th:
Take note of a few things here: his feet are nearly aligned, his hands are close to his chest, and he’s a bit far from the plate. Now, the distance from the plate was so he could try and turn on pitches inside, but pitchers turned away from that original weakness of his and started throwing thigh-high and away, avoiding any possible way that Bradley could pull the ball into the corner or the right-center field power alley.
Between that Cleveland game and the subsequent West Coast road trip, Bradley ended up changing his stance, since it was seen in use as soon as June 20th. Here’s a shot from the Houston game on July 13th:
A lot less rigidity in this one. Also, his front foot is farther back, making his stance more open from the squared one it was back in June. His hands are slightly higher up and his arms are extended a bit farther out. Oddly enough, Bradley even seems more comfortable in this one.
As it so happens, fellow Fire Brand writer Jack Keller pointed out that the second stance was the one Bradley used back when he was a South Carolina Gamecock. It was his original setup before he was drafted. So JBJ went back to find a way to break this offensive wall he’s hit. Not a bad idea at all there, Jackie.
This also shows a puzzling development: why would the Red Sox change Bradley’s stance? Maybe to make it more compact, but obviously that same approach in the bigs just wasn’t cutting it. The squared-ness of that stance, combined with a close proximity to the plate, leaves him pretty vulnerable to fastballs inside, and when he backed off from the plate, pitchers started going down and away. It was time to start relatively fresh. The Red Sox had nothing to lose but everything to gain with Bradley.
Before you know it, the Red Sox might just have a all-around great center fielder on their hands. All they had to do was let Jackie Bradley Jr. do what he had always been doing.