By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The final score of 9-4 shows a game which the Red Sox won handily on Thursday night. Yet the victory was not at all easy, and it very likely might have not happened if it weren’t for Jackie Bradley Jr.

White Sox reliever Thyago Vieira faced Bradley with two on and one out in a 4-4 game in the top of the ninth. Bradley looked slightly vulnerable after fouling back a 2-2 fastball that was well outside, but a composed Bradley stayed right on a breaking ball that was again well off the plate. Bradley roped a single into right field, scoring Ian Kinsler for what proved to be the winning run.

Vieira was able to strike out Mookie Betts in the following at-bat, making Bradley’s clutch single all the more painful. From there, of course, the Red Sox piled on, scoring four more runs in the inning, three of which came on J.D. Martinez’s 39th home run of the season. But it was Bradley who delivered the much needed offense in a game the Red Sox had no business losing.

For Bradley, it was his second such hit this week. He stepped to the plate on Tuesday in the bottom of the eighth with the Red Sox trailing Miami 6-4, when he managed to send a single up the middle to drive home two runs to tie the game.

It’s all been part of a larger hot streak, dating back to earlier in the month. Since Aug. 10, Bradley is hitting .367 with six doubles, a triple, two home runs and 11 RBIs. In that span, he’s posted very tidy numbers across the board: a .400 OBP and a .600 slugging percentage, for a resulting 1.000 OPS. His .465 BABIP during that time shows that fortune has been on his side (the two-RBI single vs. Miami stands out in that regard), but that may be a bit of a correction for someone who had a .261 BABIP prior to that date.

In any event, Bradley’s week helps shine a light on a player who’s probably been a little bit better than one might believe if one only listened to the outrage over this No. 9 hitter that tends to be prominently featured in this market. For whatever reason, the mere existence of Bradley has been a bit of a divisive figure among fans and media alike.

Allow me to say that these strong feelings are a bit misplaced.

Obviously, Bradley is not an All-Star, and is not close to being one. But even the best team in baseball can’t have All-Stars at every position. While Bradley’s cold streaks can certainly be pronounced, the overall dialogue surrounding Bradley is not entirely accurate. Given the way he’s discussed and debated, you might be led to believe that offensively speaking, he’s the worst player in the game. This is not entirely accurate.

Among the nine American League center fielders with at least 350 plate appearances this year, here’s where Bradley ranks in the following categories:

BA: 9th out of 9 (.231)
OBP: 7th (.309)
SLG: 8th (.393)
OPS: 8th (.702)
SO: 1st (115)

That is obviously not every good. Ranking last, second-to-last, and third-to-last in those categories shows that Bradley is firmly entrenched as a bottom-tier offensive center fielder in the American League. No doubt about that.

But that is why Bradley bats ninth. And it’s that nine hole that Bradley can actually be quite dangerous. That much becomes clear when you look at his ranking in the following categories:

Doubles: 3rd (26)
Triples: T-3rd (4)
Home Runs: T-5th (11)
XBH: T-5th (40)
RBI: 5th (54)
SB: T-4 (13)
BB: 5th (37)
P/PA: 3rd (4.04)

You look at those numbers, and Bradley’s value to the No. 1 offense in baseball becomes clear. Despite all the strikeouts and the low batting average, Bradley’s production ranges between average to above average across the board.

Expanding the field out to include all outfielders in the American League with a minimum of 350 plate appearances, here’s where Bradley ranks in all of those categories (out of 36 players):

BA: 32nd (.231)
OBP: 28th (.309)
SLG: 31st (.393)
OPS: 30th (.702)
SO: 14th-most (115)
Doubles: T-13th (26)
Triples: T-11th (4)
Home Runs: T-27th (11)
XBH: T-22nd (40)
RBI: T-20th (54)
SB: T-6th (13)
BB: T-22nd (37)
P/PA: 13th (4.04)

Obviously, again, none of those numbers stand out as exceptional. But for a No. 9 hitter in baseball’s most potent offense, it’s plenty productive.

That’s not an empty statement, either. Among the five American League players with at least 175 plate appearances as the No. 9 hitter this year, here’s where Bradley ranks:

BA: 1st (.265)
OBP: 1st (.341)
SLG: 1st (.462)
OPS: 1st (.803)
SO: 2nd (63)
Doubles: 1st (17)
Triples: 1st (3)
Home Runs: 1st (7)
XBH: 1st (27)
RBI: 1st (36)
SB: 1st (10)
BB: 1st (23)
P/PA: 1st (3.97)

Every team needs a No. 9 hitter. The Red Sox can claim to have the best.

(Those numbers hold true for the all of MLB, of course, but with pitchers generally occupying that spot, only one NL player — Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton — has enough plate appearances to be involved in the discussion.)

Factor in the defense (which might finally be good enough to earn a Gold Glove?), and it’s odd that there’s so much controversy and debate regarding Bradley’s place on the team.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s