Time for Jackie Bradley Jr. supporters to say ‘I told you so’

Bill Foley (@Foles74)
Contributing Writer

Remember when Jackie Bradley Jr. was a bum who couldn’t hit?

It wasn’t all that long ago when that was the general consensus of a very large portion of Red Sox Nation, where patience is not always a strong suit.

A year ago today (May 10), Bradley was called up from Pawtucket and given what appeared to be one last chance — off the bench — with the big club from then-general manager Ben Cherington. That shot with Boston lasted exactly 11 at bats before Cherington shipped JBJ back to the minors with little to no trade value.
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Cherington’s patience with Bradley (pictured) had apparently ran out after he went 0 for 11 before the demotion on May 22, and writers had their baseball intelligence questioned (to put it mildly) when they suggested the Red Sox not give up on the best defensive center fielder to wear a Boston uniform since Fred Lynn.

It didn’t matter that four of those 11 at bats, which came in 13 plate appearances, were on the road against Oakland’s Sonny Gray (not the version we saw Monday). It didn’t matter that three were in Seattle against Felix Hernandez.

Maybe Cherington didn’t stick with Bradley for 22 at bats because he was panicking since he knew his job was on the line. Less than a year earlier, Cherington proved he didn’t really have what it takes to be a GM in the big leagues by giving up on 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts at shortstop by throwing money at Stephen Drew in the middle of the season.

Bradley was perhaps the biggest reason Cherington did not even try to keep Jacoby Ellsbury after the 2013 season. Maybe Cherington thought 541 career at bats should have been more than enough to prove the GM made the right move to let the injury-prone Ellsbury limp to the Bronx.

What is even more puzzling was that Cherington let everybody and his brother not named Jackie Bradley Jr. play in the Boston outfield.

Rusney Castillo (80 games with the Red Sox), Alejandro De Aza (60), Shane Victorino (33) and Allen Craig (36) all played in the outfield while Bradley was hitting and playing sparkling defense in Triple-A. Only De Aza resembled a real major league outfielder.

Meanwhile, in 71 games (318 at bats) in Pawtucket in 2015, Bradley hit .305 with nine home runs, 12 doubles and 29 RBIs.

Bradley eventually got another shot with the Red Sox, and he proved he could hit in the big leagues. His batting average rose from miniscule to .249 by the end of the season. He hit 10 home runs, 17 doubles and drove in 43 runs.

Over one 83-at-bat stretch late last season, Bradley, who for some reason wasn’t playing in center field, hit .446 with 24 extra-base hits and a 1.441 OPS.

About that time Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who discussed trading for Bradley when he ran the Tigers, mandated JBJ be permanently moved back to center field.

But even though Bradley was crushing it at the end of last season, naysayers were still saying nay. They cautioned not to, for some reason, put any stock into his numbers in September.

Well, it’s May now, and it is time for JBJ backers like Dombrowski to say “I told you so.” It’s time for those who doubted him to say, “Yes, yes you did, and I was wrong.”

Bradley is absolutely on fire, and, excluding the ageless David Ortiz, JBJ might be the best player on the first-place Red Sox. He at least has been over the last two-plus weeks.

Even though he got off to a slow start at the bottom of the order, Bradley’s average is now .303 after a league-best 15-game hitting streak.

As Ben Whitehead points out in a piece about “Jacoby DLsbury” injured again, Bradley’s batting average rose from .222 while hitting 21 for 52 (.382) with four doubles, three triples, four home runs and 17 RBIs during the hitting streak.

That is no weak streak. That is a bona fide tear. It might even be time for the Red Sox to move Bradley up in the order. Perhaps he should trade spots with Mookie Betts, who isn’t hitting like he will just yet?

It’s at least a thought worth discussing.

Bradley is also giving the Red Sox Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field — even though he dropped a fly ball Monday night. Of course, we could forgive one defensive miscue on a night when Bradley went 3 for 6 with six RBIs and an electrifying, although wind-aided, grand slam.

By now JBJ has, hopefully, proven once and for all that he is here to stay, and the Red Sox will send him out to center field every day for the next 5 to 10 years.

So go ahead and admit it; you were wrong about Bradley. Then I’ll admit that I just might be wrong in my defense of Clay Buchholz.