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POWER GLOVES: Marrero, Bradley still bring it with the leather despite struggles at the plate

August 25, 2014

PawSox shortstop Devin Marrero, pictured, and centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., pictured above right, have made an impression with their outstanding defense this season despite their offensive struggles. (Photo by Louriann Mardo-Zayat | lmzartworks.com)

PAWTUCKET -- PawSox shortstop Deven Marrero swears by a motto that proves quite handy whenever he’s scuffling at the plate: “If I’m not getting hits, they’re definitely not getting any hits,” Marrero said recently while seated at his McCoy Stadium locker.

In many ways, Marrero’s words outline the results of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 2014 stint with Boston. His struggles with the bat at the major league level have been discussed ad nauseam in multiple forums, but did you know the center fielder did not commit a single error in 296 chances in 105 games? How about his 13 assists, a total that ranks second among outfielders?

Prior to getting sent down to the minors last week, Bradley was the complete package as a defender – tracking down fly balls in the gap and gunning down runners that felt adventurous on the base paths – a combination of characteristics that haven’t been seen in a Red Sox center fielder in quite some time. Alas, he became too much of an offensive liability that Boston could no longer justify keeping him on the major-league roster.

Looking beyond the travails in the batter’s box, Bradley deserves plaudits for turning in Gold Glove-caliber defense in a season where he undoubtedly merited serious attention for the award.

“I did enough to stay up there as long as I did,” said Bradley. “As a position player, I do one thing. There’s more to the game than just offense so you can’t focus on just one part of the game. I try not to make it too complicated … just go out there to the best of my abilities.”

If Gold Gloves were based purely on metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating, a stat that helps measure the number of defensive plays a ballplayer makes both inside and outside his defensive zone, Bradley would be collecting the hardware even with the demotion. According to Fangraphs, Bradley’s Boston-related UZR is 16.9. Just to further illustrate what an otherworldly season he was in the midst of, the latest UZR rankings have Mike Trout, the Angels’ franchise center fielder, at minus-8.1.

Bradley passed the “eye test” with flying colors as well. Boston Globe writer Bob Ryan, a veteran observer of Fenway outfielders going back to the 1960s, gave this assessment on his Twitter account: “We must root for JBJ to start hitting,” Ryan tweeted earlier this month. “He’s the best def CF I have seen in 50 yrs of Sox watching.”

Marrero, meanwhile, has still a ways to go as a Triple-A hitter – he entered Monday night’s game at Buffalo with a .215 average and a .267 on-base percentage in 178 plate appearances – but likewise it’s important to note that he hasn’t allowed the offensive doldrums to weigh on the other parts of his game.

“What I learned in college and high school is that there’s two sides to the game. You can’t let one affect the other because you’re letting the team down,” said Marrero, a Florida native who went on to star at Arizona State. “Separating offense and defense is how you mature, get better and reach the big leagues. When you go through adversity, how do handle swinging the bat or handle your defense?”

Handling the glove has not been a source of concern for Marrero, a player who has more than lived up to the slick-fielding reputation that accompanied him on his July 2 promotion to Pawtucket. In 44 games, he’s committed six errors in 190 chances and assisted in 28 double plays. Talk to any member of the PawSox’ pitching staff and they won’t hesitate to say that a defender of Marrero’s caliber provides them peace of mind.

“You’re the man at shortstop. The pitchers really rely on you to be ready every single pitch,” said Marrero, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Monday. “If you’re struggling at the plate, you can’t out your frustrations in the field because the pitcher is depending on you. He’s out there throwing every ball as good and as hard as his can. He’s trying to make a living and he needs us to help him.

“That’s how you earn your trust from your teammates by showing them that no matter what you’re going through, you’re going to be there for them no matter what and you’re going to go out there and compete every single pitch,” Marrero said.

There’s another way to measure how Marrero has been a source of defensive reassurance for Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles. Based on data compiled by Baseball Reference, Marrero’s Range Factor per Game, a stat that measures putouts plus assists divided by games played, sits at 4.18. That’s up from the 4.02 figure he compiled in 66 games for Double-A Portland earlier this season.

“He understands the importance of protecting the pitching,” Boles said. “The game revolves around starting pitching and he does a great job in being a leader in the middle of the diamond.”

As Bradley and Marrero have demonstrated, it’s important to have a short memory when the inning flips and it’s time to jog out to your position.

“To get to Triple A and above, you need to see that separation in offense and defense,” Boles pointed out. “These are two examples where at times they’ve had some struggles offensively, but they never take it out on defense. They’re ready to go and that shows mental toughness.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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