Putting JBJ’s hitting streak into historical perspective

I’ve always thought hitting streaks are one of the more over-rated achievements in sports. They just feel kind of fluky. I don’t understand why the public has such a fixation with an arbitrary sequencing of hits. Case in point: Ted Williams actually had a higher batting average during Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak than DiMaggio did. Yet we still put DiMaggio’s feat on a pedestal, and the general public reveres this feat more than Williams’s .406 batting average that same season.

While DiMaggio’s 56-game run may be the more “unbreakable record” of the two accomplishments – it will take an absurd amount of luck to equal that mark – Williams’s .406 season-run average (the last time anyone has hit .400 or better) seems to me unquestionably the more impressive accomplishment.

So why do we love hitting streaks? Was it just that DiMaggio was universally beloved, while Williams had a prickly relationship with the media? Maybe. On two occasions, Williams won the Triple Crown and yet didn’t capture MVP honors. How does that happen if the voting members of the media aren’t biased? While it may be difficult to explain, it’s undeniable that hitting streaks have always captured the imagination.

So this brings us to the latest big leaguer to make us sit up and take notice of a hitting streak: Jackie Bradley Jr. Like everyone else over the last 75 years, he fell short, this time at 29 games. So what does this mean for Bradley’s future? And was the streak a product of luck, or a legitimate breakout? Well, it was probably both in his case.

Not everyone who puts together a lengthy hitting streak proves to be a successful major league hitter, but a good run seems to bode well. Since 2010, 84 percent of players who have posted a hitting streak of 20 or more games have career averages of .270 or better. Given Bradley’s minor league track record and late-season production in 2015, many were optimistic about his offensive potential. But who could’ve seen this coming?

So far this year, Bradley’s name has been splashed across a slew of AL batting leaderboards as he has maintained a spot in the Top 10 with his average consistently in the .333 range. His on base percentage entering this week’s Baltimore series was .409 and his slugging percentage was .592, both numbers were in the league’s Top 5. And get a load of this: the average OPS (on base plus slugging) for AL center fielders in 2015 was .735. Bradley’s OPS so far in 2016 is 1.001. The kid is raking. Looks like we’ll have to dismiss the old notion of Bradley being an “all glove-no bat” type.

In the minors, he was a solid hitter, thanks in the main to his discerning batting eye – plenty of walks and not too many strikeouts. Because of this approach, I’ve always been hopeful about his offensive potential. In a nutshell, transitioning this approach from the minors to the majors is what has keyed his breakthrough. And it’s not just a sudden transformation; it’s a steady improvement. His walks to strikes ratio has improved each season in the big leagues, gains that are cementing the foundation for his success. This success looks real, and he’s only 26.

Of course, he’ll regress from these numbers. I don’t expect his slugging percentage to continue resembling Mike Trout’s or Miguel Cabrera’s. I don’t think you can reasonably expect him to keep up this pace, or contend for the MVP. But I do expect Jackie Bradley Jr. to be a starting outfielder in the All-Star Game. He has turned the corner.

So, don’t fret about his dashed pursuit of a lousy hitting streak record that’s overrated anyway. What’s important is that the Red Sox have found their center fielder for years to come.