It’s now taken as a given: Jackie Bradley Jr. can hit. His brilliance over the past month attests to a player whose early-career struggles simply masked dormant but considerable offensive skill that can combine with defensive abilities to yield a very good player.
Yet it’s worth asking: Is one torrid stretch enough to offer definitive proof that Bradley’s struggles were misleading? Put another way: Do we know any more about his true offensive ability now, on the heels of an incredible stretch (and a lengthy track record of strong performances in the minors and in college) than we did when he was 5-for-50 for the year in early August?
To hint at an answer, it’s worth trying to identify the players who have put together runs such as Bradley’s. Stretches such as the one produced by the 25-year-old occur infrequently, perhaps a few times a year in the majors, if that. Over a 30-day, 25-game stretch from Aug. 8 through Monday’s four-hit game against the Blue Jays (Sept. 7), Bradley posted an outrageous .446/.489/.952 line with a 1.441 OPS.
While slightly imperfect, for ease of the exercise (and the ability to employ the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com Play Index!), it’s worth examining players who have enjoyed a single month with a performance in the ballpark of what Bradley did for the Sox over those 30 days.
Over the 10 seasons preceding this one, between 2005-14, there were 25 players who had a single month in which they posted an average of at least .400 and an OPS of at least 1.200 while stepping to the plate at least 75 times. Here’s the list, with the players’ career OPS+ (on-base percentage and slugging relative to the league average, with 100 being average, and anything above it being above average) in parentheses, and an asterisk used to denote a player who made at least one All-Star team in his career.
2005: Randy Winn* (99), Vladimir Guerrero* (140), Derrek Lee* (122),
2006: Geoff Jenkins* (114), Matt Holliday* (136), Chase Utley* (122)
2007: Pat Burrell (116), Jeff Kent* (123), Hanley Ramirez* (129), Alex Rodriguez* (142)
2008: Andre Ethier* (122), Manny Ramirez* (154), Lance Berkman* (144), Melvin Mora* (105)
2009: Joe Mauer* (130)
2010: Robinson Cano* (126), Justin Morneau* (120), Josh Hamilton* (129)
2011: David Ortiz* (139), Mike Napoli* (136), Matt Joyce* (112), Miguel Cabrera* (155)
2012: Matt Kemp* (126), Andrew McCutchen* (144)
2013: Jason Kipnis* (111)
(For a detailed list of the months, click here – and note that not a single player over the last 10 years has had an OPS for a month that would match the 1.441 that Bradley had over those 30 days.)
The list is imperfect. After all, it excludes all 30-day stretches that, like Bradley’s, didn’t fall in the confines of one page of a calendar. Still, one would imagine that the arbitrary standard of looking for one scorching 30- or 31-day stretch that fell entirely within the confines of a month would impact stars and non-stars alike.
That being the case, it’s striking to see how consistent the career demographics are for this group. Of the 25 players from 2005-14 with a month that yielded a .400 average and 1.200 OPS, all but one (Pat Burrell) was named to an All-Star team. Every one of the players had a career OPS+ of 99 or better, and 23 of the 25 players have amassed a career OPS+ of 110 or better.
In other words, Bradley’s remarkable stretch has yielded the type of numbers that are so uncommon that it appears they’ve been achieved, even in short stretches, primarily by players who went on to produce solid to excellent career numbers at the plate. There can be exceptions – Jonny Miller of WBZ Radio noted to Bradley that in 1962, Red Sox outfielder Lou Clinton had a 31-day, 29-game stretch in which he hit .384/.439/.777 with a 1.216 OPS; he never again tapped into such a stretch, finishing his career with a .247/.308/.418 line and 100 OPS+.
“Don’t tell me that,” Bradley said with a grin. “I don’t want to hear that.”
Still, the fact that Clinton had a 100+ OPS underscores the point that there’s an underlying level of skill necessary to achieve a month-long solar flare. In other words, while no one expects Bradley to ride his current wave forever, there’s plenty of reason to anticipate that he has broken through in a way that suggests the foundation for offensive success going forward. And given his magical defense, it’s not hard for the Sox to dream big on his place with the team going forward.