When it comes to hitting approach, Jackie Bradley, Jr. fits the Red Sox blueprint. A common catchphrase within the organization is “selectively aggressive,” and that’s exactly the mindset the 21-year-old outfielder brought with him from the University of South Carolina.
Bradley was an on-base machine in his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Gamecocks, reaching safely at better than a .450 clip. A wrist injury hampered his junior campaign, but Boston saw enough promise in his sweet left-handed swing to take him 40th overall in this year’s draft.
Signed at the August deadline, Bradley got his feet wet at the professional level with six games in short-season Lowell and four more in low-A Greenville. He shared his thoughts on hitting during his short stint in the New York-Penn League.
David Laurila: Is hitting simple, or is it complicated?
Jackie Bradley: It’s one of the most complicated things in the game. There is so much involved in it, and a lot depends on the pitching. You have guys throwing hard and you have certain movement on different types of pitches. Even umpires play a role. There is so much that can affect an at bat.
You have to find a way to be consistent. You try to play to your strengths and work on your weaknesses as much as possible. Hopefully the pitcher doesn’t exploit your weaknesses too often.
DL: Is hitting more of an art or more of a science?
JB: I’d say it’s a little bit of both. People have their own particular ways of doing it. You’ll have someone with one of the smoothest swings — they said Ken Griffey, Jr. had one of the smoothest swings — and then you’ve got a guy like Hunter Pence. He’s probably not as smooth, but he gets the job done. There are different ways you can do it, but in the end you can have the same results. Mechanically, there are steps people will talk to you about taking, but ultimately it’s pretty much what you’re comfortable with that allows you to be successful.
DL: How would you describe your swing and your approach?
JB: A level-plane swing where I try to go gap to gap. I’m far from being a home-run hitter. I just try to find the gaps and run a little bit.
I try to think middle and just react from there. If you think middle and see it in, you’re not going to get beat. You can be late on a ball, with the ball down the middle, and still shoot it through the left side — that’s in my case, because I’m a left-handed batter.
There are a lot of different approaches that you can take. Certain pitchers like to throw in certain zones, so you have to have a game plan. That goes for not even every single at bat, but every single pitch. You have to think. You have to outsmart the pitcher, sometimes. It’s a mind game, but you also have to react. You have to beat the pitcher and not let him beat you.
DL: Ted Williams famously said that pitchers are dumb. Is that true?
JB: I don’t know. You can sometimes outsmart a pitcher, but Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters in the game, and what did he hit, close to .400? Even he failed six times [out of ten] and he’s considered one of the best of all time. That’s the way the game is. But the game remembers. You can hit balls hard that get caught, and you can hit some soft that don’t get caught. The game has a way of evening itself out.
DL: When you aren’t hitting well, what is usually the issue?
JB: I’m probably not using the other side of the field as much as I should. I’m probably pulling off too soon, or trying to do much, instead of just being myself.
DL: What causes that to happen?
JB: You get overconfident. You start thinking you’re good. Everything is going good for you, so you want to start jerking the ball. You start amping it up and swinging a little harder. What you should do is just keep doing what you’re doing. Less is more.
DL: Overconfidence can be just as bad as a lack of confidence?
JB: That’s correct. With overconfidence, you start getting too aggressive. You start thinking that you can hit everything, and you start chasing pitches. You need to find a happy medium. That’s what you need in this sport.
DL: What has the Red Sox organization stressed since you got here?
JB: Pretty much just to go out and play hard, and showcase what got me here. Apparently, you’re a pretty good ballplayer if you’ve made it this far, so they want to see what kind of ballplayer I am.
DL: Do you see yourself developing more power?
JB: I think I project to get stronger. I don’t plan to [become] weaker. I plan to get stronger and develop my swing a little bit more. Home runs really come from mistake pitches, so I’m not going to try to do too much. I just hope that the pitchers make mistakes, and maybe I’ll hit a pop fly over the fence a couple of times. I don’t think it will ever be a huge asset to my game, but I suppose it could be. You never know. Who would have thought that Curtis Granderson would have a year like he‘s having? He’s hit well over 30 home runs and he’s one of the smaller guys in the league. It’s all placement hitting — hitting the ball in the right spot.
DL: Where do you feel you are in regard to plate discipline?
JB: I feel that my plate discipline is good. I’ve been seeing a lot of pitches and working a lot of counts. As we’re talking, I have about 15 at bats here [in Lowell] and I think I’ve had a 3-2 count eight times. I’ve made the pitchers work, which has allowed my teammates to see different pitching.
My approach is that I want to see a pitch in my zone, and the pitch that I want. Say that I want a fastball middle away. If it’s not a fastball, I’m not going to swing. If it’s not away, I’m not going to swing. At least not in certain situations.
Leading off the game, I want my pitch, in my location. Something I can handle. It all changes when you have base runners on. With runners on and less than two out, you kind of want to be aggressive, because the pitcher is going to want to throw strikes. He might miss a couple [of locations], because he wants to get ahead in the count. I feel that you have to be aggressive and let the runners move a little bit.
DL: How do you approach the first pitch of an at bat?
JB: Like I said, if it’s not in that exact location, I’m just tracking it. I’m seeing what kind of velocity the pitcher is throwing, what kind of movement he has on it. I’m looking at how quick he is to the plate. There are a lot of things you can pick up on a pitcher just by watching him.
DL: Do you see yourself using a lot of scouting reports and video as you move up through the system?
JB: Very much so. The Red Sox have us taking a log book here in Lowell. It lets us know which pitches we have faced, what counts we’ve worked, and what we’ve actually done in those counts. We can see if we’ve hit better when we’ve been ahead or when we’ve been behind or if the count has been even. Baseball is a numbers game. And numbers never lie. People hit better when they’re ahead in the count; that’s just the way it is. It’s a proven fact.
I feel very comfortable with where I’m at. I’ve been able to see a lot of pitches and work a lot of counts. I’m not up there to draw walks, but I’ll gladly take them.
DL: Do you consider yourself a student of hitting?
JB: I’m a student of the game itself, not just hitting. I like learning anything I can. I try to soak everything up like a sponge. Everybody has a different perspective and you should use as many of them as you can to your advantage. That can only make you better.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.