It’s time to wonder what the real Jackie Bradley Jr looks like. With 270 games played so far in his career he’s shown flashes of some power, a troubling level of strikeouts and some ability to draw walks. His glove has always been so valued that many were willing to deal with a league average bat or potentially worse just to have him play center field for the Red Sox. Now his numbers have changed a bit again and with a sudden hot streak he’s flashing an elite bat along with the gold. Where will Jackie fall between the elite bat of now versus the sub .200 hitter of 2013 and 2014?
This season has been a bit of a change in regards to plate approach for Bradley. He has his lowest BB% of his career at 5.7 percent, but also the lowest major league level K% of his career at 23.6 percent. He’s never even had a rate below 27 percent before this season. I’d much rather see Bradley give up a few walks to put the bat on the ball more even if the power decline some.
Before we get to the power though I’d like to see what he’s doing differently to change his approach. Pitchers are going after Bradley with an increased number of changeups and curveballs. He’s only hitting .182 on the changeups, but his average against the curve .263 and he has an ISO of .211 against the pitch. It looks like pitchers are still attacking Bradley for his perceived weakness on breaking pitches, but he’s not struggled to handle it this season.
While pitchers are trying to adjust to JBJ, he has made changes as well it appears and perhaps Chili Davis has worked with him as well to adjust his approach. Currently Bradley is swinging at the highest rate of his career. He is swinging at 30 percent of pitches out of the zone and 67 percent of those in the zone. He’s making contact near career levels still, but those extra swings are resulting in him putting more balls in play. The good and somewhat obvious news is he isn’t swinging and missing more than normal.
One factor that must be accounted for is BABIP for Bradley. His current BABIP stands at .383 and is obviously unattainable for a full season. His career rate is .310, but what is very interesting is projections like ZiPS and Steamer both call for Bradley to maintain around .320 to .330 for the rest of 2016. These projections look at skills like speed and line drive rate to tell how well a player can influence their BABIP. When he does regress you should expect his average and OBP to fall 20 to 30 points depending on how much power he maintains throughout the season.
That’s still great news because with a .270 average and an OBP over .320 is still more than I think anyone really expected from Bradley this season. To put that in perspective I think we would all take Bradley playing like 2015 Evan Longoria who hit .270/.328/435 with 21 home runs and had a 4.2 fWAR with his solid defense at third base. I know that is more than I expected from JBJ and would say I was wrong for thinking Boston should have moved him previously.