Red Sox’ Future Plans for Centerfield
By now, Jackie Bradley Jr.’s struggle at the plate is well documented. For every 29 game hitting streak or ALCS MVP performance, Bradley Jr counters it with two straight months of a sub .200 batting average. These streaks can get annoying for fans and management, as one never knows which side of the coin they’re getting, which it’s why signing Kevin Pillar to a one year deal was a very smart move by the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox signed Kevin Pillar to a one year contract this offseason to add to their outfield depth, which recently took a big hit after Mookie Betts was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Betts’ return, Alex Verdugo, suffered a stress fracture in his back, which would sideline him for the start of the season. Pillar offensive numbers aren’t anything special, one could even argue that he’s a worse offensive player than Bradley Jr., however, Pillar splits complement Bradley Jr.’s perfectly.
Jackie Bradley Jr. Hitting Splits
Through his career, Bradley Jr. hasn’t been able to hit for power against left-handed pitchers. For instance, his batting average and on-base percentage are very similar against both lefties and righties, but when it comes to slugging he’s a completely different player. It’s even more apparent when looking at his career homers, where 76 out of 91 have come against right-handed pitchers. This has led to a career OPS difference of .750 against RHP to .669 against LHP.
OPS and wRC+ against RHP per season:
According to wRC+, Jackie Bradley Jr. has been an above-average hitter against righties in four out of the last five seasons. While 2016 looks like an outlier, the same could be said about his 2017 season. As a result, his true talent seems to be somewhere between those two seasons. Therefore, one could expect him to replicate what he’s done the last two years by posting an OPS in the .760-.790 range with a wRC+ just above 100.
Kevin Pillar Hitting Splits
Pillar has been the complete opposite. For instance, he has a career OPS of .676 against RHP and .766 against LHP. This trend continued last season, as Pillar went on to post an OPS of .823 against lefties while Bradley Jr. posted an OPS of .640.
OPS and wRC+ against LHP this season:
Pillar has only been an above-average hitter against lefties in two out of the last five seasons. However, Jackie Bradley Jr. has been so bad in his career against lefties, that Pillar has posted better OPS and wRC+ than him in the last four seasons. In three of his last five seasons Pillar put up an OPS in the .680-.710 range and a wRC+ in the 80-90, but he’s proven before that he can outperform those expectations. For this reason, similar numbers should be expected from him this upcoming season.
Using Pillar as a platoon bat for Bradley Jr. was probably something Boston Red Sox General Manager Chaim Bloom had in mind at the time of the signing. The idea may be opposed by some, as Bradley Jr. has proven to be one of the best defensive players in the game. Therefore, sacrificing him on the field might not be worth it. However, Pillar has also proven to be one of the great defensive outfielders over the last couple of seasons and he has the defensive metrics to back his claim. Pillar, who’s been named a Gold Glove finalist 3 times in his career, has accumulated a total of 6 DRS and 8.0 UZR over the last 3 seasons. According to Statcast, he’s recorded 14 outs above average since 2017, which ranks him 30th among all outfielders. While it’s true that Bradley Jr. is a better defensive player, the difference between the two isn’t large enough to counter the added offense Pillar brings against lefties.
The 2020 season might prove to be the most important one in Jackie Bradley Jr.’s career. Not only is it his last season before hitting free agency, but now he has to compete with Kevin Pillar for playing time. If he doesn’t improve his offensive numbers against lefties, the Boston Red Sox will likely have a platoon situation in center field for the upcoming season. Not to mention, with Mookie Betts and George Springer hitting the free-agent market next offseason, the Red Sox might be looking for a completely new center fielder come 2021.
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