Finding Value In The Information Age: A Jackie Bradley Jr. Story

While known for his defense, Jackie Bradley Jr. represents a rare value opportunity for fantasy owners.

Quick context: I love playing fantasy sports — I love the intersection of sports, management, strategy and camaraderie.

A common message in fantasy sports — and anything, really — is the idea of “buy low, sell high.” First off, I don’t even believe this to be totally possible. In fact, I constantly remind myself, particularly as it pertains to investing: “You will never buy at the lowest point, nor will you ever sell at the highest.” Call me a pessimist, but I find it a helpful reminder to keep me sane.

Back to fantasy. Particularly in the information age with advanced public stats, podcasts, Fangraphs, Twitter and the like, it’s really difficult to find a “true” edge. Sure, there are some “buy low” players touted by many — Manny Machado, Todd Frazier, Carlos Gonzalez, to name a few — but, by and large, these are proven players that nearly everyone, including their fantasy owners, knows are “buy low” players, thus reducing their discount to nil.

Now, this is why I love fantasy. If everyone knows who the “buy low” players are, how can you gain an edge? That question and constant pursuit of a competitive advantage drives me everyday.

And that’s why I’m here to discuss Jackie Bradley Jr. For a player mostly known for his defense, Bradley Jr. has developed into a useful fantasy asset. By varying calculations, he was a $15–29 player last year, good for (at worst) the 16th best OF in the game. A wide range, sure, but one suggesting meaningful value either way. Yet, in fantasy drafts this year, he wasn’t treated as such. For instance, in NFBC leagues, he was, on average, taken as the 42nd OF. I found this to be consistent with my experience, where he went as a $1–3 player in both of my leagues.

Meanwhile, projection systems expect performance similar to last season. Steamer projects him for 20 HR, 77 RBI, 75 runs, 7 SB and a .265/.347/.458 triple slash, per 600 PA. This doesn’t look terribly far off from his 26 HR, 87 RBI, 94 Runs, 9 SB and .267/.349/.486 triple slash in 636 PA last season, where he produced as high as a $29 player.

Even if you want to argue the projections aren’t 100% buying into what he did last year — fair enough — his performance to date suggest projections are underselling him. After missing two weeks on the DL in April with a sprained ligament in his knee, Bradley predictably got off to a slow start in April with a 52 wRC+ in 48 PA.

Since the (admittedly arbitrary) beginning of May, as of 6/20/17, Bradley has seemingly gotten healthy and posted a robust .277/.374/.525 triple slash in 163 PA, good for a 131 wRC+. While picking arbitrary endpoints can make any player look favorable, Bradley’s injury-plagued April suggests valid reasoning to look beyond that.

Similarly, while any player can ride a BABIP-fueled hot streak, Andrew Perpetua’s xStats.org — which use a player’s batted ball data, namely exit velocity and launch angle, to determine what a player should be hitting — suggests Bradley has been slightly unlucky. Perpetua’s xStats (as of 6/19/17) suggest Bradley should be hitting .277/.380/.508 with 10 HR, while his actual triple slash reads .250/.343/.456 with 8 HR. Furthermore, Bradley’s YTD per 600 pace — even with his poor April — isn’t far off from last year’s, save for runs. When looking at only May and beyond, things get even juicier:

2016 per 600 PA: 25 HR, 82 RBI, 89 Runs, 8 SB | .267/.349/.486, 118 wRC+
2017 per 600 PA: 23 HR, 84 RBI, 64 Runs, 6 SB | .250/.343/.456, 105 wRC+
2017 per 600 PA (Since 5/1): 29 HR, 92 RBI, 70 Runs, 4 SB | .277/.374/.525, 131 wRC+

When looking at these numbers, combining the counting stats pace with his YTD xStats, we’re looking at a player — save for runs and, perhaps, SB — likely to put up similar, if not better, numbers the rest of the way. This doesn’t even get into the potential growth of a former 1st round supplemental pick still just 27-years-old, such as his improved strikeout and walk rates. Furthermore, you wonder if the runs and SB numbers will pick up as Bradley gets healthier and Boston’s offense heats up with the summer temperatures. Even so, given his draft day price and YTD “disappointing” performance, Bradley should come practically free … and, in the process, a near-lock to generate a tidy profit.