Who’s better than Jackie Bradley Jr.?
Had this question been asked a couple years ago, the list would have been extremely long.
And while nobody is saying Bradley — who went into Sunday’s game riding a 26-game hitting streak and leading the major leagues in batting average (.342) — is the best hitter in baseball, if this season has proven anything, it’s that he is absolutely a starting-caliber major league outfielder, and not one that just helps in the field, but also at the plate.
The truth is, things looked bleak for Bradley in Boston at more than a couple points early in his career.
After cracking the Red Sox roster out of spring training in 2013, Bradley struggled mightily at the plate. Early trouble sent him packing to Pawtucket early in the season and after a few trips back and forth he finished with a .189 batting average in 37 games. Though Bradley’s role increased in 2014, he didn’t see much improvement at the plate, batting just .198 in 127 games.
Last season was the first real sign of hope as Bradley was called up in late July and went on a power stretch at the plate from Aug. 6 to Sept. 7, in which he hit a whopping .424 with seven home runs and 32 RBI in 28 games. Though he finished the season batting .249, it was that hot streak that had many believing Bradley could do more than provide Gold Glove-level defense in the outfield.
And that brings us to now, with Bradley resembling that player during last year’s 28-game stretch. During his current 26-game hitting streak, Bradley leads the majors in average (.411), slugging (.800), OPS (1.286), RBI (29), triples (tied, three), and extra-base hits (18). The Athletics’ Khris Davis (13) and Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes (nine) are the only major leaguers with more home runs than Bradley (eight) during the streak.
Bradley went into Sunday’s game having hit seven home runs over his last 16 games after hitting five in his first 188 games.
And opposing teams are beginning to take notice. Bradley was intentionally walked twice on Saturday from the No. 7 spot in the batting order with Ryan Hanigan and then Christian Vazquez hitting behind him. That raised his on-base percentage to a team-high .411 among regular starters. But it makes a lot of sense for opposing teams to do if that’s where Bradley is batting, as he’s been one if not the most productive hitter in baseball from the bottom of the order. On Sunday, manager John Farrell bumped him up to sixth.
Nobody knows how long Bradley will remain the hottest hitter in baseball, but after watching him fight through the first few years of his career, the fun has just begun.