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:
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:
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.
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