So, did you guys hear about Jackie Bradley Jr. and how well he's been hitting over the past few weeks?
The former South Carolina Gamecock and current Boston Red Sox outfielder is in the middle of a 29-game hitting streak and is the talk of Major League Baseball right now. (That streak ended tonight at 29, by the way :( ) But how has his approach changed from past years, and what has been the secret to this offensive surge of his? Ben Buchanan, co-manager of Over the Monster (SBN's Red Sox site), was kind to answer a few questions and provide his observations. (Plus, we know you need some positive news after the Gamecocks' latest flameout in Hoover.)
First off, how surprised are you that Bradley has been able to do this? He was a .250 hitter last season and has been known more for his defense.
Anyone who expected this of Bradley would probably be lying, but his success definitely didn't come from nowhere. He was one of the system's best prospects from 2011-2013, never really struggling at any point until he earned the too-early call-up to start 2013 with an excellent spring performance. It wasn't really until he struggled tremendously in 2014 at all levels that Sox fans really wondered if he was ever going to be more than a glove.
Last year, though, actually showed us that Bradley was capable of exactly this. From August 6th to September 7th, Bradley was basically the best player in baseball, hitting .424/.480/.880 in 102 plate appearances. He went cold to end the year, and frankly we're pretty much expecting him to come back to Earth at some point this season before going off again. But certainly nobody's going to complain if he continues to play like the second coming of Willie Mays.
Secondly, you have obviously followed the team more closely than we have. What differences in his approach have you spotted this year as compared to last year?
Again, it's not so much now vs. 2015 as now vs. 2013-2014. Early in his career, Bradley had huge holes in his swing which were identified pretty quickly upon his promotion to the majors. In particular, anyone who could throw a hard inside fastball could get him out, and trying to protect against that opened him up pretty much everywhere else. A big part of why 2014 was so bad might have to do with how much time was spent retooling, changing his stance, getting his swing more consistent, and finding something he was comfortable with that eliminated those holes.
If there's a big difference between this year and last, it's how his success against the fastball has allowed him to key-in on off-speed pitches again. He'll still swing-and-miss on occasion, but basically the only pitch he still struggles against is the changeup, and you can't set that up without offering him a fastball to destroy. There's just no gameplan for Bradley that doesn't involve a couple dangerous pitches, and given that he's hitting .391/.400/.565 even when he puts the first pitch in play, there's no safe time to throw said dangerous pitches.
How has Bradley handled the extra attention during his hitting streak?
Right now he's very much in the "speak softly and carry a big stick" mindset. He's probably getting more post-win interviews than anyone these days, but hasn't really given in to any of the questions about the streak. It's always just about getting on base for the next guy, and keeping the rally going. The streak is nice, but right now he's probably more focused on the score, the standings, and that whole "new dad" thing he's got coming in about a month. Plenty to keep from getting too focused in on that bit of history.