Bradley Has Gold Glove - and a Ring - to Prove His Worth
By Jason Mastrodonato
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As hotly debated as the six-year career of Jackie Bradley Jr. has been in Boston during that time, there was one part of his game that never caused an argument.
In November, Bradley was finally rewarded for his defensive work when Rawlings named him the American League Gold Glove winner in center field.
The validation seemed long overdue and a bit silly to most of us who have seen his aggressive style of fly-chasing often rewarded with highlight after highlight.
“It’s amazing,” Bradley said Tuesday from JetBlue Park, where most of the Red Sox have trickled in ahead of Wednesday’s reporting date for pitchers and catchers. “It’s something that I always worked hard for. You never want to talk about individual awards but it’s something that I always wanted to be a part of. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of getting one day and to finally have one, I’m honored to join the elite crew.”
Bradley actually didn’t think he was particularly deserving of the award last year, at least not in comparison to his other seasons, when he routinely showed the kind of talent that was miles beyond that of the majority of today’s center fielders.
Asked if last year was his best defensive year, Bradley was quick to respond.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “No, no. Last year was probably, maybe my worst, in my mind. But it goes to show that sometimes what you think might not be accurate, but I think I can get better and learn some things and still continue to grow.”
According to FanGraphs, he was saving the Red Sox at least 10 runs more than an average player at the position in 2014 (15 DRS), 2016 (11) and 2017 (10).
It was becoming laughable when, at the end of each of those seasons, Bradley’s name wasn’t called for the Gold Glove.
“Work harder,” he told himself. “I always say, ‘you don’t like it, play better.’ So, just play better.”
But last year he was statistically a below-average center fielder by the FanGraphs metric, worth negative-2 defensive runs saved.
Thankfully for Bradley, FanGraphs stats don’t matter in the award. The only stat that matters is the SABR Defensive Index, which counts for 25 percent in Gold Glove calculations, with 75 percent based on voting by managers and coaches.
In that metric, Bradley finished third in the American League (and 10th overall in the majors) with a 3.9 SDI rating. In 2017, he was eighth in the AL with zero SDI. He had a negative-1.2 SDI in 2016.
Bradley doesn’t think much of the numbers.
“There’s a lot of things I judge it by,” he said. “Overall, the balls I get to and don’t get to. Sometimes I feel like certain situations I might feel like I can get to it, but the situation of the game might not dictate that I be overly aggressive. I feel like those things, (the numbers) don’t really look at.
“Say you’re up by three runs and there’s a guy on first base, you’ll be more likely to keep the ball in front of you than go all-out and try to make a great play that can possibly get by you. There are a lot of things that go into it.”
Bradley admits he’s a bit hard on himself, but the self-assessment is helping identify how he can improve his defense in 2019.
“Mainly just making sure that I’m consistent with being aggressive when I need to be,” he said. “I love trying to keep guys from advancing an extra base. I think that’s very vital in today’s game, when 90 feet is at a premium. Sometimes I might have gotten a little over aggressive and attacked the ball too hard and maybe got a particular hop that wasn’t pleasant for me and it got by me. Just making sure I kind of know what I’m doing and slow things down.”
It’s a big year for Bradley, who will make close to $9 million this season, with one more year of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent.
His offensive numbers have always been inconsistent, but over the past three years he’s been an above average major league contributor with the bat. And as an added bonus, Bradley remains one of the more efficient base-stealers in the game, not for his totals, but for his success rate. He’s 47-for-53 (89 percent), the second-highest success rate among active players.
The debate on Bradley may never end -- but at least he’s finally got that Gold Glove to his name.