The Five Claims of the #KeepJBJ Reporters

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One of the more interesting aspects to the #KeepJBJ campaign is the degree to which reporters – ostensibly impartial observers – have been sucked up in the frenzy to start the 23 year old in the major leagues. Or at least wish to give that appearance; Pete Abraham, for example, who gives every appearance now of being fully on the bandwagon, earlier implied it was something of an act:

Maybe they’re just trying to sell papers by siding with the masses, maybe they’re legitimately convinced it’s the right thing to do. It’s difficult to say with any certainty, which in my opinion is a failure on the part of the reporter, but that’s a subject for another day.

Should Jackie Bradley Jr end up making the club tomorrow – as is widely expected – it would not be, as Marc Normandin put it, the end of the world. It would, however, be a mistake.

The #KeepJBJ subset of media covering the Red Sox are building their case using a few different claims that are worth examining in more detail.

Claim #1: “This isn’t about Spring Training statistics”

See, for example, Rob Bradford’s denial here:

While it’s true that in the piece mentioned, not to mention all of the other pieces written in favor of keeping Bradley on the roster, Spring Training statistics are rarely if ever mentioned, there’s one important question none of the reporters (to date, anyhow) have cared to answer: if Bradley was hitting, say, .215, would we be having this conversation?

The answer, of course, is no. It’s difficult if not impossible to imagine a grassroots #KeepJBJ campaign if the outfielder wasn’t putting up numbers reminiscent of Bonds in his prime. The glove is great, undoubtedly, but so was Che-Hsuan Lin’s.

As Curt Schilling (of all people) outlines here, however, these numbers are utterly meaningless. Unfortunately, as Keith Law observes, it is very difficult for some to accept the fact that Spring Training statistics are useless.

While none of the reporters in question will admit it, then, the fact remains that each and every one of them is basing their belief that Bradley should remain with the team on his spring numbers. Even if they say they are not.

Claim #2: “Service time shouldn’t be an issue”

Rob Bradford argues this explicitly here, and Pete Abraham (among others) has made the same argument on Twitter.

In this, at least, the #KeepJBJ party is technically correct. Assuming that Bradley Jr is kept, he could be sent down for 20 days later in the season to gain the additional year of service time.

There are a few problems here, however:

  1. Injuries could make it impossible for him to be sent down. If there’s any team that should know this, it’s the Red Sox. Know how many games Ellsbury played in 2010, March through May? Nine. Say he gets hurt again (he’s already jammed an ankle). Or Victorino. If you leave Bradley in the minors for nine games, this is not an issue. If you’ve started him in the majors, on the other hand, it’s extremely unlikely he would be sent down for the required 20 games, and thus you lose a year of Bradley in his prime.
  2. What if his performance prohibits you from demoting him, either because his agent (Boras, remember) would file a grievance as Rob Neyer suggests or because he’s playing well enough he can’t be sent down. If you’re Pete Abraham, you say, essentially, so what? Personally, I think we need to be smarter than that.

Claim #3: “The Red Sox can’t afford to start slow”

This is easy to address: the Red Sox can, in fact, afford to start slow. Even after their horrific start in 2011, it took a historically unprecedented collapse to keep them on the outside looking in. In a perfect world, of course, they get off to a hot start. If they don’t, however, baseball is, as they say, a marathon, not a sprint. This is basically an opinion masquerading as a fact that reporters are using to justify another opinion. So we can toss it.

Claim #4: “We need to have the best team on the field”

If we assume for the sake of argument that the Red Sox need to have their best nine players on the field for the first nine games, the question is whether Bradley’s part of that best nine. To argue that he is the “best choice” for the roster spot, you have to assume that he’ll hit – which is certainly possible. It’s equally plausible, however, that he doesn’t. Everyone cites Mike Trout, for example, as justification for starting Bradley in the majors. Know what he did in his first 40 games at the major league level? .220/.281/.390. Pedroia’s another common comparison. In 2006, he hit .305/.384/.426 at Pawtucket. The 31 games after his promotion to the majors? .191/.258/.303.

The single most consistent truth of player development is that it is rarely linear. This particular claim assumes – with essentially no evidence but his spring training numbers – that Bradley will be an offensive asset to the major league roster rather than a liability. While it’s certainly possible that that’s the case, taking it as a given – as the reporters are – is a mistake.

Claim #5: “The Red Sox need Bradley to put people in the seats”

Let’s say that the Red Sox send Bradley to Pawtucket for the requisite nine games. Know how many home games he’d miss? Three. The Sox’ first two series are on the road. They can probably expect to sell out their home opener, so even if they keep Bradley down we’re effectively talking about the gate for two games. It seems a little silly to justify a year of service time for two gates, particularly so early.

The Net

Viewed dispassionately, this is a simple decision. Even if Bradley was the second coming of Mike Trout, the Red Sox could survive without him for nine games. More to the point, if they can’t, the season is lost anyway and there’s even less incentive to start him in the majors. Even Trout couldn’t make that big a difference in a mere nine games.

Trading nine games from a 23 year old Bradley for one hundred and sixty two from a Bradley in his peak years is nothing less than folly. It pains me to make the case against Bradley, because even setting the talent aside he seems like a personable, poised kid who gets it. But his performance this spring – which is to his credit, to be clear – has seemingly cast a spell over everyone in Florida. My hope is that Cherington has maintained his distance, and sees the risks associated with an immediate promotion clearly. It’s one thing for reporters to get swept up in the performance and cavalierly dismiss the financial implications; it would be quite another for the man who’s charged with balancing the short and long term health of the organization.

Years from now, no one’s likely to remember the names of the reporters who agitated on behalf of starting Bradley in the majors. The General Manager who made that decision, however, and cost the club a year of service time in exchange for nine games, well, he’s likely to be raked over the coals by the same media personalities that are campaigning for his promotion.

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