Brewers Affirm Their Commitment to Run Prevention With Jackie Bradley Jr. Signing
Like Kolten Wong, the veteran outfielder may not be an impact bat, but his elite glove makes him valuable.
Just one day after President of Baseball Operations David Stearns told MLB Network Radio that his quest to add talent does not end at the onset of Spring Training, the Brewers made their second notable free agent signing since the conclusion of the 2020 season. Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has reportedly agreed to join Milwaukee on a two-year deal that includes an opt out after the inaugural season.
Bradley spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Boston Red Sox. He had a couple of solid offensive seasons, the best of which came in 2016, when he slashed .267/.349/.486 with 26 home runs. He is also coming off a nice run at the plate in the shortened 2020 season, posting a 120 wRC+. Bradley’s career .239/.321/.412 line is a bit underwhelming, however, and he has produced an above-average line in only one full season plus two half-season’s worth of plate appearances in 2015 and 2020. Bradley’s calling card is his elite glove. In 7,409 innings in the outfield, he has racked up 53 Defensive Runs Saved and 35.6 Ultimate Zone Rating runs. He has also accumulated 62 Outs Above Average since the inception of the metric in 2016.
A center fielder by trade, Bradley is likely to split his time in the field between center and right field. The Brewers still have Lorenzo Cain, who has graded out even better defensively over his career (126 DRS, 70.8 UZR, 68 OAA). While technically penciled in as the team’s starter up the middle, Cain will be turning 35 this season and missed most of the 2020 campaign after opting out. Like Ryan Braun in recent seasons, Cain will require regular maintenance days, and the Brewers finally have a true center fielder that can step in for such games with little to no drop-off defensively. In addition to Cain’s days off, Christian Yelich has a history of minor back spasms, and Avisail Garcia has an inconsistent track record. The Brewers may have four outfielders for three spots, but there should be plenty of playing time to go around for each of them.
While the power potential in Bradley’s lefty swing could potentially play up at American Family Field, calling him an impact bat is a stretch. The same is true of Kolten Wong, Milwaukee’s other “big” free agent signing, who owns a career 96 wRC+. In an offseason where many have justifiably cried for some major offensive additions, David Stearns and Matt Arnold took a different route in building their roster, instead dialing in on run prevention. Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, and Devin Williams lead a Brewers pitching staff that looks more promising than it has in quite some time, with prospects like Ethan Small and Aaron Ashby on the way as well. To back up their stable of promising arms, Stearns and Co. focused on the defense, which ranked 23rd among the 30 teams with -14 defensive runs saved. By signing Wang, the Brewers swapped out the worst defensive second baseman in baseball (Keston Hiura) for the best. Not only does this upgrade the fielding at the keystone, but it also takes the pressure of having to make most of the tough plays off of shortstop Orlando Arcia. By adding Bradley, the Brewers now boast two elite defenders in Cain and Bradley plus an average one in the corners in Avisail Garcia. There is a growing collection of evidence that Christian Yelich’s glove is declining (-7 DRS, -0.9 UZR, and -5 OAA in three seasons with the Brewers), but that does not change the fact that the Brewers possess an enviable amount of defensive wizardry in their outfield.
This offseason may not have been an outstanding one for the Brewers. They failed to add a true impact bat, particularly at third base, and will rely instead on internal bounce-backs. However, they did spend some money to improve the team. Neither Wong nor Bradley are imposing hitters, they are valuable pieces thanks to their contributions in the field. Wong has averaged 3.6 bWAR per 650 plate appearances for his career, and Bradley has averaged 3.7. It may not have been the route some folks wanted them to take, but the Brewers got better. They are squarely in the mix to win the NL Central, a division that has no clear favorite.