As is so often the case, 2018 was a tale of two halves for Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley is notorious for being one of the streakiest hitters throughout the major leagues. He’s capable of going on hot stretches and looking like one of the best hitters in baseball, but is also capable of going through stretches where he cannot hit anything to save his life. His elite defense gives him a safe floor, but can Jackie Bradley Jr. finally find consistency at the plate in 2019?
2019 Boston Red Sox Preview: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Nobody can deny just how good Jackie Bradley Jr. is in center field. One of the best defensive players in the game, Bradley finally earned a much-overdue Gold Glove award for his work in 2018. Boasting unparalleled range and an arm that ranks among the best in baseball, there’s no fly ball JBJ cannot reach. There were too many absurd catches and throws to list, so just watch this video instead.
Offensively, Jackie Bradley Jr.was something of a mixed bag. Bradley finished the year with a slightly-below-average .234/.314/.403 slash line with an accompanying 90 wRC+. With defense like his, you’d take that offensive production every day of the week. However, showing his season-long stats doesn’t show just how dramatic the split was between the good JBJ and the bad.
Bradley posted an underwhelming .210/.297/.345 slash line with an accompanying 71 wRC+ While he was the victim of batted ball luck (.265 BABIP), he was well below a league-average hitter. In the second half, Bradley turned over a new leaf and posted a .269/.340/.487 slash line with an accompanying 118 wRC+. Batted ball luck was on his side this time (.352 BABIP) as he was one of the hotter hitter in baseball throughout the late portion of the season. Bradley carries this success in the playoffs, where he came through in the clutch countless times to win ALCS MVP.
What To Work On
When Jackie Bradley’s hot at the plate, he’s one of the most complete center fielders in baseball. While he’ll never be as good as someone like Mookie Betts, he has the raw ability to be a borderline top-five center fielder in baseball.
While he has the capacity, he lacks the consistency. Entering 2019, Bradley’s biggest goal should be finding consistency at the plate. If he can put together an entire season of solid work at the plate, he can make the bottom of the Red Sox lineup significantly more dangerous.
For what it’s worth, there is reason to believe in Jackie learning a more consistent approach at the plate. JBJ is spending the off-season working with Criag Wallenbrock, the man responsible for transforming J.D. Martinez from a fringe major leaguer into arguably the best power bat in baseball. Martinez might be the smartest hitter in all of baseball, and his presence already helped several members of the 2018 Boston Red Sox have career seasons. Bradley seems enamored with what he’s learning, saying that “what I’ve been taught my whole life is completely wrong”. If Bradley made it this far using a bad swing, the sky is the limit for what he could do in 2019.
Steamer Projections expects Jackie Bradley Jr. to be perfectly average at the plate in 2019. According to the projections website, Bradley is expected to finish the year with a .248/.329/.421 slash line and an accompanying 100 wRC+. For those who aren’t familiar with the stat, 100 is exactly league average.
Bradley will probably finish around league-average, but saying that the prediction is correct is boring. So, I’ll take the over. Bradley came alive during the second half of the season in large part because J.D. Martinez helped revamp his swing. Now that he has a whole off-season to learn from the man who taught Martinez, he should be even better in 2018.
That said, it will probably take more than one year to completely eliminate the peaks and valleys from Bradley’s game. It’s human nature to have good and bad portions of a season, and all but the truly elite players are susceptible to slumps. Bradley doesn’t have the offensive ceiling of guys like Betts, Martinez, or even Xander Bogaerts. Look for him to be slightly above average at the plate while providing the same consistent defense and baserunning he’s provided since entering the majors.