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Over parts of two seasons, Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared in 164 games for the Red Sox, and it's fair to say they didn't go well. Bradley, at the time a consensus top-50 prospect in all of baseball, managed to hit below .200 in 2013 and 2014, logging a .196/.268/.280 line over 530 plate appearances. That's not good.
Bradley looked totally overmatched in that time, striking out in 28.6 percent of his plate appearances and showing almost no ability to drive the ball consistently. His place as a top prospect was driven more by a great eye at the plate and stellar defense than a big bat, but this was still an alarming start to what seemed like a promising career.
Bradley was pretty much left for dead, and he didn't show many signs of life among 14 intermittent appearances in the first three months of last season. However, he got another chance in the second half of last season and started putting things together. He still struggled with strikeouts, but was actually driving the ball with authority, hitting .267/.352/.539 with 30 extra-base hits in 60 games from July 29 on last season.
That was, apparently, just a prelude to even bigger things. Bradley hasn't just looked the part of a blue chip prospect so far this season; he's been one of the best hitters in baseball. He ranks 17th in the majors in wOBA -- just ahead of Josh Donaldson and Robinson Cano -- and 15th in ISO, again ahead of Donaldson. Is Bradley's breakout legit?
First of all, it is striking how different this version of Bradley is than the one who came up through the Red Sox minor-league season. Bradley, at 5-10 and 200 pounds, doesn't exactly have the frame of a prototypical power hitter, and he never hit for a ton of power in the minors. In 303 minor-league games, Bradley hit just 30 homers, while sporting a .166 ISO.
He isn't hitting like that right now, however. Bradley was hitting for a ton of power even before his two-homer game Wednesday, and his ISO now sits at .285 for the season. And this isn't just a good month or so -- Bradley is now hitting .288/.357/.566 since his last trip to the minors, a span that includes 90 starts and 348 plate appearances.
In fact, if you extrapolate his production since then to a 150-game pace, these are Bradley's numbers: 25 HR, 42 2B, 13 3B, 98 runs, 115 RBI. This from a player who averaged 15 HR, 44 2B, four 3B, 98 runs and 67 RBI in the minors. Bradley wasn't a slap hitter, but over his last 90 games, 54 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases; that number was just 36.7 percent in the minors.
And there are real factors driving Bradley's strong hitting. Like the fact that he is literally a strong hitter right now; Bradley's hard-hit average is 42.7 percent, and his average batted-ball exit velocity is 90.9 MPH, a solid mark. Bradley is squaring up the ball well and driving it, and that makes his results look a bit less flukey.
However, it is worth noting that "last 90 games" totally oversimplifies things with Bradley, who has been tremendously streaky even in this small sample size. Bradley's production has fluctuated wildly just since the start of last season, as his 15-game rolling averages from FanGraphs.com show:
Figuring out who is The Real Jackie Bradley Jr. is a tough task right now. Clearly, he's got the skills to be an above-average hitter; even over small sample sizes, it's hard to do what he is doing without real skill. However, it's tough to say just how good he is, because his production has been all over the place.
One thing is for sure, though; nobody in baseball is hotter than Bradley. As streaky as he has been, he deserves to be owned in all Fantasy formats right now.