Jackie Bradley Jr. was all the rage coming out of spring training, surprisingly making the Boston Red Sox’s big league roster. The hype machine continued after a big walk on opening day, but he, along with the hype, quickly fizzled. The Red Sox would quickly send him down after striking out 12 times in 38 plate appearances, with just 3 hits, one of them being a double. Just like we saw with Aaron Hicks, Bradley was a hyped prospect that was brought up too early and the contact problems showed it. In this post, like in the Hicks post, I will look at the Pitch F/X data of all his at-bats to see if we can see what went wrong, what pitchers were doing to Bradley, and whether or not it should be a long term concern.
First, let’s see what kind of pitchers Bradley faced
Here are the ones he whiffed (swung and missed) against
Here are the ones he has made contact against
Bradley actually handled the left-handed specialist deliveries (the ones that come low and out) pretty well according to the simple contact/whiff distinction (which is simplistic, but with our sample size, it works). You would like to see him do better against traditional right-handers, as it seemed he made contact with them as many as he whiffed against. Against traditional lefties, it looks like he just took a lot of pitches, as he didn’t swing and miss against many, but didn’t make a lot of contact either. This does give you at least some hope that he can handle lefties in the big league, even if it is by being passive.
Here are where pitchers are pitching to him:
It seems like pitchers were more willing to go low than high to Bradley, and they didn’t have a real preference inside or outside to him, except low and away in the strike zone.
Here are where the MLB pitchers were throwing to him with two strikes
Pitchers did try to bust him inside in the strike zone with two strikes, and again, were much more willing to throw pitches well below the strike zone than high pitches above the strike zone.
It wasn’t top notch velocity that undid Bradley’s story, as he only saw 8 pitches over 95 MPH, and 7 of them were balls out of the zone that he took. The other one he swung through. He saw 48 pitches that were above average, that is between 91-95 MPH. He swung and missed at just 2 of these, putting 9 in play, 3 for plays that didn’t record an out and one of those on a run scoring play. Velocity and fastballs were not his problem. What about pitches with the least velocity? He saw 27 pitches that were below 80 MPH, and swung and missed at 8 of them. He put just 4 of them in play, all for outs.
So what does spin tell us? Pitches that have little spin are usually curveballs, so without having to use the sometimes erroneous pitch classifications from MLBAM, we can see if Bradley’s problem is with the breaking ball. He saw 16 pitches with below 100 degrees of spin, which are usually where curveballs are going to reside. He swung and missed at 5 of them (nearly a 3rd) and put just two in play, both for outs.
So while Bradley held his own against fastballs, suggesting he can hit in the Majors eventually, he doesn’t seem to be near as advanced as advertised. He has a significant hole in his zone, and he just couldn’t hit or lay off the breaking ball. It sounds pretty simple, but this is usually what separates the MLB hitters from the minor league hitters.