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Touching All the Bases

Did the Red Sox Send Down Jackie Bradley Jr. to Find Success or Learn a Lesson?

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After several grueling seconds fiddling around with baseball-reference's incredible Play Index, I have come up with the entire, exclusive list of ballplayers who have met this particular set of criteria in a single season:

More than 110 games played. Fewer than 10 stolen bases. More than 110 strikeouts. Fewer than 2 home runs.

After all of my research -- did I mention how exhaustive it was? -- here is the list:



Yep. That's it. One player. You know him well.

If you needed further evidence of how brutal he has been this season, there's your evidence. Jackie Bradley Jr. stands alone in history, a one-man list of offensive incompetence.

Even Gary Pettis, the golden-glove, salami-bat center fielder for the '80s Angels for whom Bradley is increasingly compared, could steal a bunch of bases. Bradley is not much of a threat on the basepaths. Then again, he's rarely on base, instead expertly wearing a path back to the dugout. Did I mention he endured an 0-for-35 stretch?

With his statistical ineptitude confirming what we've seen night after night, it should come as little surprise that the Red Sox sent him back to Pawtucket today, swapping him with Mookie Betts.

Betts deserves the promotion, having having worn out pitching between Double A and Triple A this season. He has 11 homers, 33 stolen bases, 67 walks, and just 50 strikeouts between the two levels, with a ridiculous .346/.431/.529 slash line.

John Farrell seemed reluctant to play Betts during his first stint in Boston; I assumed he was skeptical that the kid was ready to help. Bringing him back now suggests A) there's nothing left to lose by giving him a real audition, which is true, and B) the Red Sox have seen enough improvement in the outfield novice's defensive play to feel better about what he can contribute.

It also suggests that they're frustrated with Bradley. There are just 39 games left in the Red Sox season. He's had more than a fair opportunity -- a big reason he's alone on that aforementioned list is because few players who struggle like he has get such an extended look.

But it's not unreasonable to think, given his breathtaking defense and stature within the organization, that he would get these final, meaningless-in-the-standings six weeks to try to show some progress at the plate.

Perhaps -- probably -- they feel like sending him to Pawtucket is a better chance for him to have some success. He did have an .842 OPS there last season, thriving after initially struggling in the big leagues.

But there's not a huge window there. The PawSox have just 15 games remaining, though with a 2.5-game lead in the wild card race they are likely to be playing in the postseason. If he does succeed, it's not going to be in a particularly convincing sample. Any good signs are welcome, I suppose.

This much we do know. It wasn't getting any better for Bradley in Boston. He did have five hits over the last week, good for a .313 average in 16 plate appearances. But that is such a puny sample that it's tough to find real optimism, especially since his second-half numbers (.173/.222/.213 in 81 plate appearances) are painfully feeble.

Given the timing of this -- roster expansion is just two weeks away -- you can't help but wonder if the Red Sox are trying to deliver another message to Bradley. As he's struggled, there have been vague gripes about his approach and preparation, especially regarding his supposed reluctance to watch video.

Personally, I'm skeptical that his flaws on the field are indicative of personality issues or an inability to cope with failure. He drew A+ ratings for his character in college and all the way up the minor leagues. Any suggestions of comfort or entitlement simply don't jibe with everything we knew about him before his struggles mounted.

It seems to me the real issue is that he can't catch up to a fastball. Oh, and hitting a breaking ball is a bit of a problem too.

I hope he can solve these very real issues, because I want to watch that glove in center field for the next half-dozen years.

For now, we'll have to visit McCoy Stadium to do so. The truly telling sign on how Bradley is presently regarded by the big-league team is what happens when the PawSox season ends.

Does he get summoned back to Boston? Or have they seen enough for 2014?

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