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June 25, 2014

Painting the Black

Red Sox Playing Badly, Playing Bradley

by R.J. Anderson


At 35-42, the Red Sox have not played to expectations. The good news is, for the most part, neither have the other American League East teams. That widespread mediocrity has kept the Red Sox within 7 1/2 games of the Blue Jays—a surmountable, if sizable, gap, given the teams have 13 head-to-head matchups remaining. With seven of those games occurring prior to the trade deadline, July will have added significance for Boston. Not only will Ben Cherington learn a lot about his team's chances to repeat over the next few weeks but, by extension, we'll learn a lot about his evaluation of certain Red Sox players. Like Jackie Bradley Jr., who could find himself on the outs.

Bradley Jr. is the centerpiece of a mess. Collectively, Boston's outfielders have hit .229/.304/.330, giving them the majors' worst OPS by a 15-point margin over the next closest team, the Cubs. Cherington and John Farrell have started the process of remaking the outfield: Grady Sizemore was released earlier in the month, and the Red Sox have auditioned three career infielders—Brock Holt at the big-league level and top prospects Mookie Betts and Garin Cecchini on the farm—on the grass in an attempt to find answers. Change seems inevitable; the mystery is to what degree.

As such, Bradley's short-term future is uncertain. The case for his demotion is easy to make: no center fielder with more than 150 plate appearances this season has a worse True Average. Moreover, Bradley's on-base percentage over the past two years rivals Mark Trumbo and Alfonso Soriano, while his ISO threatens Peter Bourjos and Dee Gordon. He has, in a sense, wed the worst parts of power and singles hitters. There are some under-the-hood reasons to feel optimistic about his chances of improving, yet those signs thus far have not led to improved results.

But there is a counterargument to demoting Bradley, too. As Marc Normandin, editor in chief of Over the Monster, explained: "With the way the Red Sox are playing, you would think demoting Bradley to get more offense in the lineup would make sense. They're trailing eight teams for a wild card, though, and it's nearly July, so leaving some focus on 2015 makes sense in case 2014 continues to be a struggle.

"Keeping Bradley in the lineup gets him at-bats he clearly needs against major-league pitching. Bradley has already handled minor-league pitching with ease, so heading back to Triple-A to face sub-par secondary stuff isn't going to get him to where he needs to be in his development. Throw in that the Red Sox' second-best defensive outfielder at the moment is Brock Holt, who never even played the outfield as a pro until this month, and you can see how it's easy to justify continuing to run Bradley out there in the hopes his slow progress offensively becomes something more."

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Related Content:  Boston Red Sox

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