Thursday, July 30, 2009

Seriously, lay off of Milton Bradley

Bradley is a magnet for haters. Trade rumors, the baseball media industry's cash cow, are notorious for needing little basis in reality, and they've of late been a means to continue the tired and silly narrative that Milton Bradley is awful and undeserving of his contract.

Milton Bradley's career numbers prior to his signing were .278/.370/.457 with a .359 wOBA, .322 BABIP, and a .177 ISO. In 2008 he led the AL in OBP. In 2009, he has hit .250/.385/.381 with a .346 wOBA, .298 BABIP and a .131 ISO in 299 PA. He leads the Cubs in OBP.

He was put upon before the season for making remarks that he has not, in the past, tended to play through injuries because doing so would hurt his numbers and make it harder for him to be paid for his actual value. Given that he's played all over the outfield in his career and that it is well known to all of his employers that he is injury prone, I don't see what the hubbub is about; his teams should be able to field a pretty good 4th outfielder. If performance above replacement is our standard and he's sitting out games where he doesn't think he'll out-perform his replacement, he is not hurting anyone. Bradley, I feel, was being quite fair to his employer by saying, look, go ahead and play me hurt if you want to because you've actually signed me long term.

The criticism of Bradley that ensued was along the lines of 'he should ALWAYS be a team player willing to play hurt, and part of the reason he's never gotten a long term contract is that he hasn't been a team player!' Such criticism largely overlooked the actual statements by his teammates about what kind of team player he is, and devolved into de facto support for the owners for the simple reason that they own baseball teams, but with the perspective of the owners being projected onto the fans. As I saw it, the criticism was unwarranted because Bradley is precisely the type of player (can handle all the OF spots, switch-hitter) who can withstand being in and out the lineup, and a team acquiring Bradley knows it will need a decent 4th OF and can plan accordingly. When he's been in the lineup, he's been one of the better players in baseball.

So, sure enough, Bradley played hurt in April (and also evidently had at least a handful of extra balls low and away called strikes), was not good at doing so, and Piniella announced he would stop putting an ailing Bradley into the lineup. Through his first 20 games, he hit .143/.294/.250 in 68 PA, and his season narrative would set in stone unless he could duplicate his 2008 numbers over the balance of the year. Instead, he has been merely what the Cubs paid for.

Games 1-20: 68 PA, .143/.294/.250, .258 wOBA, .154 BABIP, .107 ISO
Games 21-40: 72 PA, .286/.375/.508, .382 wOBA, .300 BABIP, .222 ISO
Games 41-61: 78 PA, .277/.397/.354, .362 wOBA, .375 BABIP, .077 ISO
Games 62-82: 81 PA, .283/.457/.400, .385 wOBA, .341 BABIP, .117 ISO

In his last 62 games played (53 started) he has hit .282/.411/.420 in 231 PA, good for a .376 wOBA on .338 BABIP and .138 ISO. I'm fine with those who wish to point out that Bradley's power has been down this season, but aren't all the other critiques (aside from bullying him with small sample UZR's) pretty highly unwarranted at this point?

So why does Milton Bradley - who was signed after he led the AL in OBP and who leads his team in OBP - get flack for not slugging much (again, career ISO prior to signing was .177, which ain't huge) when he's getting on base just fine? Shouldn't Piniella be the target of rage for not batting his OBP threat in the 1 or 2 hole instead of Soriano and/or Theriot?

Put away the small sample UZR numbers (Bradley's range was + 4.2 runs over 645.2 innings in 2007-8 and is -3.6 in 580.1 2009 innings) and stop acting like his lousy April is still news. Bradley is worth his contract.


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