Will The Real Jackie Bradley Jr. Please Step Forward?

Entering the 2016 season, the Boston Red Sox were expecting some improvement in the offensive production in Jackie Bradley Jr. As a full-time centerfielder for the Sox, regular turns at bat and comfort in cementing his position should have resulted in an improvement on his .249 batting average from 2015. To date, not only has Bradley improved on his prior season, he has obliterated prior expectations of inconsistent production and a propensity to strike out more than you would want from a speedy player. Through the middle of May, Bradley Jr. has put forth an impressive string of games; including a present 24-game hitting streak. During the streak Bradley has elevated his batting average from .222 to .338 while also showing pop to his bat, slugging seven home runs while driving in 2. Combine this with his prior 16 games (0 HR, 4 RBI) and you can see why this emergence caught many by surprise.

What led to this emergence as a hitter? Was it his feasting on right-handed pitching? Nope, he hits better against left-handers (.387) than he does against right-handers (.325). Now, a 24-game streak does not a season make; but there is enough evidence to believe that Bradley should be a more potent presence in the lineup on a daily basis.  The reduction in strikeout ratio isn’t just a result of his recent play, as he struck out 20% before and during the current the streak. In fact, the strikeout ratio has steadily declined since his major league debut season (29%). He simply appears to be focusing on contact and being more disciplined at the plate. Of course there will likely come a stretch of games where he will be hard pressed to get on base over a period of a week, but hitting coach Chili Davis seems to have modified Bradley’s swing to be more controlled. While his swing appears to be more compact, Bradley is also more aggressive at the plate, swinging at 32% of first pitch strikes. Understanding of pitching tendencies is a natural occurrence for a developing player, and Bradley is proving to be a solid student of the game in this regard. His contact percentage jumped compared to last season, now connecting over 74% of the swings made (including foul balls). All of these factors lead to Bradley striking out swinging far less than at any other point in his young career. when you put the ball in play with the speed he possesses, good things can happen.

This all leads to the obvious question, what is Bradley’s ceiling? Barring injuries and eroding discipline at the plate, one could expect Bradley to be a solid contributor towards the bottom of the lineup. It is becoming more safe to assume that Bradley has permanently moved away from the inconsistent hitter he was through the end of last season. An average in the high .270s to mid .280s should not come as a surprise. When you couple this with the current fielding excellence he provides, the Red Sox have gotten themselves a real keeper and another foundation player in Jackie Bradley Jr.

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