It’s been a popular rumor for a couple of seasons, but the Red Sox – and a fan favorite – may part ways in 2020.
“Jackie Bradley, Jackie Bradley, Jackie Bradley!” Dave O’Brien hollered as the center fielder scaled the wall at Target Field to bring a deep line drive into his glove and preserve the narrow Boston lead. From his initial struggles at the plate to his breakout 2016 season and his postseason heroics, Jackie Bradley has been at the center of the last few years of successful Red Sox teams. But with Scott Boras as his agent and free agency looming, JBJ’s future in Boston is uncertain. Jackie Bradley Jr. is set to hit the free agent market after the 2020 season. A former first round pick out of the University of South Carolina, he made a splash in his first full season in 2016 by slashing .267/.349/.486 with 26 home runs and an All-Star appearance. He went on to earn ALCS MVP after three clutch hits netted nine RBI against the Astros in 2018 on his way to a World Series ring.
JBJ finished off his 2018 campaign with a Gold Glove and is once again a finalist. However, complaints about his lack of offensive production, his low chance of resigning, and a desperate need for pitching has allowed trade rumors to swirl around the center fielder. He was said to be one of the players the Mets wanted in exchange for Edwin Diaz back at the July deadline. With the Winter Meetings approaching, Chaim Bloom can succeed where his predecessor failed — in moving an overrated player for some much needed pitching.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is famed for his fielding. A perennial Gold Glove candidate and a walking highlight reel, he has established himself in the minds of fans as one of the premier defensive players in the MLB.
The stats tell a different story though. According to Statcast, his outfield jump is 18th among 98 qualifying players. Outfield jump is measured by the number of feet covered by the fielder in the right direction in the three seconds after the ball is hit. Statcast also calculates the probability each ball in play is caught. For all of the balls hit to JBJ, the average of their catch probabilities was 87%. He caught 89% of them, which means his Catch Probability Added was 2%. There were 22 qualifying players who had higher rates than him — led by Victor Robles and Kevin Kiermaier with 6% — and 10 players with the same rate. This may come as a surprise to many, but it can perhaps be explained by the fact that he makes many four-star catches (26-50% catch probability) and quite few five-star catches (0-25% catch probability), and four and five star catches are often indistinguishable to fans. Jackie Bradley Jr. is an excellent fielder, but his glovework cannot make up for his lack of offensive production, which was headlined by a .225 batting average this season.
|Catch Percentage Added||Five-Star Catches||Four-Star Catches||Outfielder Jump|
As the data shows, JBJ is still relatively far off from the highest class of defensive outfielders. However, he has far more four-star catches than the three others, which contributes to the perception that he is an elite fielder.
To his credit, he does take a reasonable number of walks and has the potential to consistently hit for power. He has averaged 2.1 fWAR over the last three seasons, making him a starting caliber player. Plus, he is entering his prime, as he turns 30 at the beginning of next season. Bradley still brings value to a team, and if the Red Sox are not getting much in return, they might as well hang on to the center fielder for another season. However, he is projected to make $11 million next season, and if the Red Sox can get a middle of the rotation starter or a top reliever in exchange, they should be ready to part ways with Jackie Bradley Jr.
It won’t alone solve the Red Sox problems; however moving Bradley would help with immediate, and long-term savings, as well as potentially bolster the Red Sox pitching staff. You can expect Chaim Bloom to perform his due diligence this offseason.