Even when fans and pundits were predicting an American League Rookie of the Year Award for Jackie Bradley Jr. in 2013, few could have seen this coming. After Bradley extended his hitting streak to 24 games during the Red Sox's doubleheader against the Royals on Wednesday, his 2016 hitting line is now a Mike Troutian .338/.390/.607.
It's an outcome that seemed impossible less than a year ago. After all, Bradley hit a pitcher-esque .196/.268/.280 in 530 plate appearances between 2013-14. That kept him on the Triple-A shuttle for most of last season, before he broke out with a .354/.429/.734 August. After he slumped to hit .216 in the season's final month, we were left to wonder just which Bradley would appear this season.
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Six weeks into the season, it appears we have our answer. Here are five explanations for just how Bradley has done it:
1. Pulling the ball
Coaches and players often talk about the need to use the whole field, but if you want to hit the ball with authority, you're going to want to pull the ball. It's why, despite ever more shifts, you don't see many power hitters choking up and punching singles the other way.
After pulling the ball just 36.1 percent of the time in 2014, Bradley upped that to 45.5 percent last year and is at 45.1 percent this season. You can see the difference simply by comparing his 2014 and '16 Baseball Savant spray charts:
That shows up in Bradley's exit velocity, too. Not only is he hitting the ball slightly harder and farther than last year, but he's been above league average (89.2 mph) every week but one in 2016.
2. Covering the outside corner
This one seems counterintuitive given our first point. Despite Bradley's pull-happy ways, pitchers no longer have an X-Wing-sized flaw in his strike zone that they can aim for.
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After hitting just 12-for-73 on outside pitches that were either low or high in the zone through 2015, Bradley was 12-for-23 on those pitches this season.
Granted, that's a rate that will not continue no matter how good of a hitter Bradley's morphed into, but it's not all luck. On Tuesday night, he laced this double on a perfectly placed pitch on the outside corner.
3. Hitting sliders and cutters
Those two offerings gave Bradley fits in the past, as the outfielder hit just .167 against sliders and .220 off cutters through the end of 2015, combining for just 15 extra-base hits against the pitches. Nine of those extra-base hits came in August and September.
Through Tuesday: .400 against sliders, .429 against cutters and, yep, nine more extra-base hits.
4. New "old" mechanics
Like a mad scientist, Bradley has been a tinkerer throughout his big league career. He started with a slight bend in his knees and the bat held high, a simple toe tap on his load. That soon gave way to an exaggerated open stance with his arms held lower and the addition of a leg kick.
Now? The leg kick has remained, but the stance looks awfully similar to 2013, when Bradley first arrived in the Majors after posting a .275/.374/.469 line for Triple-A Pawtucket.
5. He's just streaky
Of course, the right answer may just be … Bradley is incredibly streaky. After all, not only did he follow up his torrid August with a frigid September last year, but there are a few red flags from his 2016 that look more like a player in the midst of a good stretch rather than someone who has reached a new baseline.
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Bradley's .396 BABIP is unsustainable for any player, and a notable outlier for him considering his career .307 mark. And while his new aggressive approach at the plate has seen his strikeout rate drop, his walk rate has also been cut in half as he's chasing more pitches out of the zone than in any other season. That's not a great indicator for future success.
While this streakiness will surely frustrate Red Sox fans who dream of Bradley spending the next decade of his life hitting like he has through mid-May, he's also not the same hitter who struggled in 2013-14. By showing the ability to get this hot for weeks on end, Bradley not only has a better chance of repeating it than the next Minor League hopeful, but it's the kind of performance that, even if it comes to an end, could be the difference between playing October baseball and making early vacation plans.