While much attention has been given to the offensive exploits of Boston’s center fielder, not much has been given to the skill that made him so popular among fans of prospects. Dave McCullough break down a play in which Jackie Bradley Jr displays his excellent arm, as well as superb body control.
Leading off the fifth inning during the game on August 9 in Boston, Chase Headley of the New York Yankees blasted a drive to deep left centerfield on a 2-1 count from Boston hurler – and de facto ace – Rick Porcello. The ball struck the top of the OPTUM advertising sign and ricocheted over the head of centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., bounding freely onto the grass and away from the Red Sox outfielder. Headley motored around first and – seeing the ball rolling – put his head down to round second. The crowd gasped a little, in anticipation of the attempt to stretch a double into a triple.
JBJ tracked down the ball quickly, using long strides and deceptive speed to corral the bounding ball. At the moment he nabbed it with his bare hand, he was headed toward the bullpens in deep right field – a slightly deeper angle in the outfield, and directly away from third base. Bradley subtly adjusted his footwork as he reached to pick the ball up off the grass, executing a series of slight hop steps with his lead (right foot). The hops both arrest his momentum and allow him to plant:
Ball in hand, Bradley swung his weight onto his plant leg and pivoted his hips, quickly moving his left leg across his body. Those hop steps with his right leg diminished his momentum and helped him to maintain excellent balance. He swiveled his torso and hips toward third base and then planted his left leg hard, simultaneously transferring his momentum to power his right arm through the throw. He released the ball falling away from his third base target, abandoning his carefully maintained balance to transfer his remaining momentum into the throw:
The ball sped in a tight arc toward third, bouncing about 30 feet from the bag and into a good fielding position for third baseman Brock Holt. Holt gloved the throw and sprang toward Headley, who was busy executing the ugliest slide possible. Headley clearly did not anticipate needing to get down, which means his third base coach – who is inexplicably jogging into to position as the ball arrives – gave him no help. Bradley’s exceptional defense somehow surprised him.
The Yankees burly third baseman awkwardly folded his legs under himself and he tried to sneak past the diving Holt. Headley is tagged after attempting to sneak a hand to the bag in a horrible example of a popup slide.
Bradley is in the discussion of the best defensive players in the game – and is a Gold Glove quality centerfielder – in part, because he is capable of plays like this. While his ability to track down balls in the power alleys and to cover a huge amount of ground is his calling card, his arm is also above-average. But it is not just his arm strength that makes this play: It is his positioning before the ball was hit, his hustle after the ricochet, and his tremendous athleticism to execute a perfect throw while off-balance and running away from third base.
Bradley likely saved a run here – runner at third and no outs is a tough spot for the pitcher – and saved his teammate, Porcello, from a labored inning. This incredible defensive play is made to look easy because of the astounding skill and ability of Boston’s centerfielder.