Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Triple-A Study Assignment

Jackie Bradley Jr.’s fantastic spring did not turn into April results. The highly regarded Red Sox prospect was sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket following Thursday’s game after he managed just three hits and six walks in 38 plate appearances. It’s clear what Bradley needs to work on with his everyday at-bats at Pawtucket: hitting advanced changeups and curveballs.

The incredible combination of command and movement major league pitchers possess on their breaking balls is one of the biggest challenges a rookie must deal with, particularly one like Bradley who hasn’t taken a single at-bat above Double-A. Indeed, Bradley’s biggest struggles came on curveballs and changeups. Observe, the 16 curveballs Bradley saw according to data from BrooksBaseball.net:

jbjcurves
Graphic from catcher’s point of view; L/R refer to pitcher hand

Bradley’s zone recognition on the curveballs was excellent — he only swung at one demonstrably out of the strike zone and he took six balls. Plate discipline has always been noted as one of his best skills according to Baseball America ($), and Bradley’s six walks with Boston comes out to a sharp 15.8 BB%. But Bradley was unable to do anything against curveballs in the zone — he took three strikes, and of the eight curveballs he swung at, he put just two in play. He whiffed on four — 50 percent of swings, 23.5 percent of all pitches.

Results on changeups were even worse for Bradley:

jbjchanges
Graphic from catcher’s point of view; L/R refer to pitcher hand

Pitchers exhibited exceptional control on their changeups to Bradley. Just three of the 16 he saw missed the zone, and only one by more than a foot (not pictured, crossed well below the strike zone). He whiffed on three more in the strike zone, fouled off four more, and hit into three outs. His whiff rates — 37.5 percent per pitch and 46.2 percent per swing — were, as expected, awful.

Bradley didn’t produce a single positive outcome on a single changeup or curveball in the strike zone. As a left-handed hitter, Bradley will enjoy the platoon advantage for much of his career, particularly against starting pitchers. As such, he should expect to see a steady diet of changeups and curveballs throughout his career — they exhibit the least significant platoon splits, especially when compared to fastballs and sliders.

There is more to work on, as Bradley posted just a .209 wOBA in his short time at the major league level. But his results on fastballs (including two-seamers/sinkers) weren’t nearly so poor — he whiffed a relatively tame nine times out of 92 seen (9.7 percent) and notched one of his hits off hard stuff. Additionally, the slider wasn’t as problematic as the two platoon-killer soft pitches. Bradley recorded two hits off sliders and didn’t whiff once, although he only swung at five total.

The left-handed batter in the major leagues must have the ability to handle changeups and curveballs, as he is liable to see each pitch from both sides of the plate. Bradley simply lacked experience against such well-refined changeups and curveballs as he saw in his short stint in the major leagues. By all accounts, Bradley’s pitch recognition and hit tools are tremendous. With some time to develop against more advanced soft stuff at the Triple-A level, Bradley can still develop into the kind of player who inspired so much hope this spring.

Graphics made with Tableau Public




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22 Responses to “Jackie Bradley Jr.’s Triple-A Study Assignment”

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  1. Nate says:

    Poorly worded title. Is this “a study assignment” on JBJ’s triple? or a “Triple-A study assignment” on JBJ?

    Otherwise, good article. He’ll be back.

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  2. james wilson says:

    That explains a learning curve which is especially important reading for anyone in minor league baseball.

    It reminds me a bit of a game Wakefield, the number five starter, threw a few years ago in spring against the Cincinnati AAA club in order to get his innings in before opening day. They were ridiculously over matched.

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  3. Synovia says:

    “Bradley’s six walks with Boston comes out to a sharp 15.8 BB%.”

    Just a note on sample sizes/etc. 3 of Bradley’s 6 walks came on opening day against a set of pitchers who gave up 8 walks that day. He’s been a lot worse since about game 3 when pitchers realized he couldn’t hit anything offspeed.

    That being said, he clearly can tell what is a ball and a strike. And hes a fantastic defender, and has good bat speed, so there’s a lot of upside there.

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  4. Choo says:

    Wow. Impossible to say for sure just by looking at those graphs, but the consistent textbook location of those pitches is downright Madduxian. There appears to be no hanging curveballs and maybe one hanging changeup in 38 PAs. Bradley might be green, but that is an unfortunate stretch for any hitter.

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  5. BalkingHeads says:

    Nice work Red Sox. Lost a year of future Bradley for this.

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    • Dave (UK) says:

      No they didn’t, they have just sent him down to Triple-A so his service time clock doesn’t start.

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      • Detroit Michael says:

        Well, he’s got 3 weeks or something on his service time clock before it was paused. That’s how service for arbitration and free agency work. For the limit on how often he can be optioned to the minors, it’s based on years.

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      • birdnation says:

        his service clock is still started, just paused.

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    • Choo says:

      If Bradley rebounds, the Sox will sign him to an extension and none of this will matter. If he’s not good enough to warrant an extension, it still doesn’t matter. Either way, starting the clock just doesn’t matter as much as it used to.

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      • Synovia says:

        “If he’s not good enough to warrant an extension, ‘

        This just isn’t true at all. Average players (and its tough to believe that a defender as good as Bradley won’t be average) are worth about $12M a year. Delaying arbitration for a year, and maintaining control for an additional year, even for a good defensive centerfielder who puts up a .200/.280/.300 is significantly valuable.

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        • Choo says:

          It wasn’t a statement about Bradley’s ability or projected value. It was a statement about the current trend of buying out a young player’s arb/fa years, and how it has diminished the consequences of starting the service time clock.

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        • Synovia says:

          You don’t think that the number of years of control left affects a player’s first big deal?

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        • Chief Keef says:

          Yeah a “good” defensive CF who puts up a .200/.280/.300 line isn’t “significantly valuable, he’s a fringy replacement player.

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        • Jason B says:

          That’s what I thought too, Chief. Any player at any position offering a 580 OPS is definitely fringy at best, spectacular defender or not.

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  6. aj says:

    the time he spent in the majors so far won’t effect anything. the reason teams delay typically until mayor June is so the player can stay up the rest if the year and not count for a whole year. couple weeks in April is exactly the same as any two weeks except Sept. unless the sox bring him back up before twoish months pass these two weeks amount to nothing service time wise and honestly with redsox flush with cash the extra ten million doesn’t mean dick to them anyways. Bradley raking woulda been way more valuable then saving a few bucks they aren’t the rays lol.

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  7. Choo says:

    One year of club control? Not much. Once it becomes apparent that both sides are interested in executing an extension that erases league min, arb and 2-3 yrs FA, the driving factor during negotiations are comparable deals in relation to performance and age.

    Also, let’s assume Bradley gets an extension in two or three years (age 25-26) that carries him into his 30′s. If starting his clock one year early effectively shaves off one year of his extension, meaning he walks at age 33 instead of 34, the Red Sox have increased their odds of not paying for negative value at a time when he is earning the most money.

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    • Matt says:

      As long as Bradley is in the minors for at least 20 days then the Red Sox don’t lose a year of control – so that part is unlikely to matter.

      They did use up the first of 3 options on him, but that was likely to happen at some point this year anyway – so that likey doesn’t matter.

      But losing 1 year of control over a player is huge. Even if the Red Sox sign Bradley to an extension (sooner or later – doesn’t matter), Bradley’s agent will now be expecting one year at near-free agent rates rather than one year at near minimum rates. This would cost at least a few million dollars if not more.

      But again, since he will likely be down for 20+ days, none of it should matter.

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  8. Givejonadollar says:

    From Synovia:

    “If he’s not good enough to warrant an extension, ‘

    This just isn’t true at all. Average players (and its tough to believe that a defender as good as Bradley won’t be average) are worth about $12M a year. Delaying arbitration for a year, and maintaining control for an additional year, even for a good defensive centerfielder who puts up a .200/.280/.300 is significantly valuable.

    _____________________________

    Maybe, maybe not. If that is the case, why didn’t anyone trade for Julio Borbon?

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    • Jason B says:

      Yeah, no one putting up that slash line is going to be pulling down $12M per year. That’s replacement level or worse, irrespective of position played or defensive value.

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  9. Givejonadollar says:

    And, as a follow up, I don’t see Tony Campana making 12 million per year either. ;)

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  10. I saw him at Fenway against the Rays. (This past Monday.) My impression was he was jumpy, not letting the ball travel, trying to do too much. I thought his play in left in the 9th (dive, then wild throw to the plate) was also evident of him not letting the game come to him. I know players and coaches in the Sox system that rave about him. Sometimes the game speeds up on you… and MLB pitchers will feed off that.

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  11. Bobby Ayala says:

    Great article, thanks!

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