Milton Bradley's triumphant return from the restricted list hasn't exactly gone as planned. While he's been healthy, active, and outwardly well-behaved, he's also hit all of .200 over 137 trips to the plate since May 19th, with three times as many strikeouts as walks and a .629 OPS. I don't think anyone was ever counting on Bradley to carry this offense on his back, but we certainly expected him to be a contributor, and instead, he's only been one of several problems. To repeat for emphasis: Milton Bradley has found a way to be a problem despite being on some approximation of his best behavior.
It's been discouraging, to say the least, as other problems like Chone Figgins and Jose Lopez have recently turned it around. Figgins has a .368 OBP since May 17th, while Lopez has a .758 OPS since May 28th. Their numbers are regressing. Bradley's aren't, and with his contract extending through 2011, some have even tossed around the idea of eating the salary and cutting bait.
It's gotten pretty bad. Which is why I'd like to make special mention of Bradley's home run against Randy Wolf on Saturday. Because, according to Hit Tracker Online, Bradley's home run against Randy Wolf on Saturday left the bat at 111.4mph and traveled 444 feet.
One home run, on its own, doesn't mean a whole lot. But the reason I'm bringing this up is because, between 2006-2009, the furthest Bradley hit a home run was 463 feet, but the fastest he hit a home run was 112.9mph. Over that same span of time, he posted a .881 OPS.
We have no direct measure of bat speed. As fans, then, we're left with the indirect. And what are our options? We can't really use line drive rate, since it's unstable and doesn't tell you a whole lot about the actual line drives anyway. So my preferred measurements come from Hit Tracker, which gives you precise and presumably accurate information about the nature of some batted balls - balls that leave the yard. Balls with the best combination of bat speed and launch angle.
And if we believe what Hit Tracker is telling us, then Milton Bradley's home run on Saturday is evidence - not proof, but evidence - that, if he's lost any bat speed, he didn't lose much. He hit a long home run at 111.4mph off the bat, which isn't much slower than his previous best over a four-year period.
Now, the holes in this theory are numerous, and please don't read into this as me concluding that Milton Bradley's bat speed is as fine as ever. It's possible, for example, that Bradley used to swing quite a bit faster, but just didn't make perfect contact with any of his 61 2006-2009 home runs. The 'true talent gap' in home run speed could be way bigger than it seems. It's just a piece of evidence. About the only evidence we've got.
We don't want Milton Bradley to have lost any bat speed. Lost bat speed is irretrievable. We want it to be something else, because Bradley's under contract for another season, and most other things are fixable. If it's a matter of bat speed, then Bradley's days as a productive hitter are shot. If it's a matter of, say, confidence or stress - well, those aren't easy to address, but they can be addressed. Those matters have hope.
How Bradley does through the rest of the season is going to be big for the 2011. If they can get something productive out of his $13m+ price tag, they'll be happy. If it turns out he's all out of juice, then this team's in trouble.