Let’s talk about what to expect from Jackie Bradley, Jr. But first, let’s talk about what not to expect from Jackie Bradley, Jr. Don’t expect a fourth outfielder. Don’t expect a platoon with Lorenzo Cain. Don’t expect a platoon with Avisaíl García, for that matter. Definitely don’t expect a steady bat or a reliable on-base presence. Don’t expect any of those things, ok? Good. Now let’s get into what to expect from JBJ.
Now that you’re not worried about the losing end of JBJ’s notoriously streaky bat, or whether the Brewers could be paying $13 million for a 4th outfielder to platoon with a $17 million outfielder, you can simply have fun watching Jackie Bradley Jr. Heck, Boston-based journalist Steve Buckley wrote a whole article about how fun JBJ was with the Red Sox.
What makes JBJ so fun? The eye test is good enough to answer this question.
Or this one (all from one season).
(More) Gold Glove Outfield Defense
Suppose the eye test doesn’t move you, fair enough. Statistically, Jackie Bradley, Jr. is no better a defensive center fielder than (the completely amazing) Lorenzo Cain. LoCain does have the proven edge here, especially in recent years as JBJ has been trending downward in defensive metrics. Trust it’s not loyalty that moved Craig Counsell to assure the Brewers faithful that “Lorenzo Cain is our center fielder.”
To put the comparison in perspective, however, since 2015, JBJ’s +33 DRS in centerfield puts him in the top 5 in MLB. His 19.9 UZR is sixth. Bradley is a superb center fielder who can stand in for another superb center fielder (who happens to be 35 and is currently nursing a quad injury). However, JBJ brings more than that.
Flexibility for Counsell, Security for the Rotation, 120+ Games.
I mentioned earlier not to expect JBJ to play the fourth outfielder or simply platoon with another outfielder. A team that has voiced the decision to prioritize defense doesn’t spend $13 million on one of the best defensive outfielders in the game to make him a fourth outfielder or a simple platoon player. As Craig Counsell said, “We don’t have any 4th outfielders. We have a lot of starting outfielders.”
Craig Counsell can't talk directly about Jackie Bradley Jr., but here's what he said: "We don't have any fourth outfielders. We have a lot of starting outfielders and we have to figure out how that works. ... But there's playing time, absolutely."— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 4, 2021
JBJ offers Counsell more flexibility than a 4th outfielder. On any given day, Counsell can play any combination of three players from Garcia, Yelich, Cain, and Bradley Jr. Those lineups will lean heavily on who is healthy, who needs rest, and who the Brewers are facing on the mound. If all of those players even remotely resemble their typical selves for offensive production and run prevention, Counsell’s outfield lineup options range from solid to spectacular.
The possibilities are numerous and the improvement is considerable. Consider that about this time a year ago, the Brewers had to replace Lorenzo Cain with Avisaíl García (who, to be fair, did a respectable defensive job while filling in in center field) and then had to replace Avisaíl García with Ben Gamel. This year, they can field an all Gold Glove outfield. Fact check me here, baseball-at-large fans, but I believe the only other manager who can do that is backed by the biggest payroll in baseball.
A Streaky Bat
However, since 2015 Bradley has slashed 247/.331/.438 with a 102 wRC+. That means that all those streaks work out to about league average. To have fun, a JBJ fan learns to ride the wave, enjoy the positive streaks, endure the slumps, and know that statistically, over enough at-bats, JBJ shapes up to be an average hitter who’s also a top-tier defender.
A Clutch Hitter
This is a nice bonus. Who’s going to stand in for Ryan Braun in those need-to-come-up-clutch situations? You might be surprised to hear JBJ could be that guy. According to Gabrielle Star of the Locked On network, JBJ comes up big offensively in big moments. At least, his hitting streaks can carry into the big moments. For example, in the 2018 ALCS, JBJ hit 10 RBIs, all on two-out extra-base hits.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is a clubhouse presence with plenty of playoff experience. During his time with the Red Sox, the team made it to the ALDS four times and won the World Series twice. He was a well-respected fan favorite in Boston. He’s shaping up to be a likable figure for Milwaukee, too. JBJ has already greeted Brewers fans with a #19 Robin Yount shoutout on social media and plenty of acknowledgments for his new teammates.
Riddle: Now let's see if anyone can figure out why I chose #41 , obviously much respect to #19 Robin Yount.— Jackie Bradley Jr. (@JackieBradleyJr) March 5, 2021
HINT: Family https://t.co/aWhtTllc0P
Finally, imagine all the fun we’re going to have watching JBJ highlight reels in blue and gold for years to come.