Jackie Bradley Jr.'s demotion has one consequence pertinent come awards time in late October/early November.
It makes the vote for the American League’s Gold Glove center fielder that much more interesting.
Bradley probably won’t get a chance to wow any of the voters (major league managers and coaches) for a few weeks, but even if he doesn’t play another game this season, he can make a pretty good case for the award.
Bradley currently ranks second among American League center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), the two primary advanced defensive metrics. He ranks first by way of an overall defensive rating combining those two, per Fangraphs.com, and second in a metric that combines those with other defensive ratings, produced by the Society for American Baseball Research.
He also ranks third via one stat that uses the eye test. Baseball Info Solutions, a company that provides data to major league teams and media, charts “Good Fielding Plays” -- essentially plays that could earn a Web Gem on Baseball Tonight (great catches) as well as some things that might go unnoticed (holding a runner to one base on a base hit).
Bradley faces two different types of competition for the Gold Glove award -- those statistically deserving and those with stellar defensive reputations.
Bradley's overall defensive value is pretty substantial. He ranks fifth among all AL players in the defensive component of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), with his defensive value pegged at 2.1 Wins better than the theoretical player who would be replacing him. That's what kept him in the lineup and kept him in the lineup despite a total Wins Above Replacement figure of 1.5 (more than four wins below what the Red Sox got from Jacoby Ellsbury last season).
In the former category, Bradley’s toughest opposition may come from Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson. Dyson leads AL center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved despite playing more than 300 innings fewer than Bradley.
One reason he doesn’t play all the time is because the Royals actually have another center fielder who is statistically worthy, Lorenzo Cain, who ranks tied for third in Defensive Runs Saved, just behind Bradley. He too has played more than 300 innings fewer than Bradley.
Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin is tied with Cain and could also make a good case. His will likely be hindered by his penchant for mistake. Baseball Info Solutions credits Martin with 30 Defensive Misplays & Errors, 11 more than any other center fielder in the AL. Bradley’s case is hurt slightly by his ranking second in that stat with 19.
Reputation-wise, there are three notable players in Bradley’s way -- Ellsbury, who won the award in 2011, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles, who has three Gold Gloves, including two straight in center field, and Mike Trout, who has never won one, but who has a history of making the amazing play.
Bradley’s best argument against that trio is that he rates far better statistically than each of them. In fact (and this may open up a subject better discussed at another time), Ellsbury, Trout and Jones all have negative defensive ratings (meaning a Runs Saved total below zero) this season.
Bradley should also be helped by the exposure and publicity he gets from playing in a big market.
Regardless of whether Bradley wins the award, and regardless of whether he hits at a higher success rate this season once he's promoted again in September, he’s definitely made a mark and proven he belongs high in the conversation with those mentioned above.