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Deep League Thoughts: Jackie Bradley Jr. and how fantasy ought to work

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If you play fantasy in a slightly more intelligent way than is standard, the Boston outfielder starts to look more tempting.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

It's time to revisit a topic from earlier this season. On April 22, I wrote that Rusney Castillo and/or Jackie Bradley Jr. might be good fantasy additions. The argument at the time was merely that Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava were terrible-super-duper bad, and hey, these guys weren't those guys.

(I also pointed out that, less than a month into the season, Mookie Betts hadn't exactly lit the world on fire, which brought on all the hatred and mean talk, so never pick on Mookie Betts, guys.)

At the time, my point was that at least one of those outfielders was about to get regular playing time, and in some leagues, in deeper leagues, that's enough o warrant ownership. It's inelegant, but it's true nonetheless.

So now, it's August. Victorino, Craig and Nava are all gone. Betts is still around (and good! Don't hate me, internet!), as is Hanley Ramirez, and Alejandro De Aza is now in the fold. Regardless, in the last week, Bradley has started five of six games and Castillo has started three.

Now, it's time to look into performance. (I'm dropping Castillo from this now, because the heck with it, I really just wanted to write about Jackie Bradley Jr.)

Bradley's career hasn't gone well so far. Through Wednesday's games, he has a 67 career OPS+, with a .204/.282/.317 slash line. That's ... well, that's Rabbit Maranville in a slump. His 2013 was bad, his 2014 an abject disaster. Only 25, Bradley looked done in Boston, trapped behind about 40 other outfielders.

Heck, a week and a half ago, that was still true. Through August 12, Bradley was hitting .174 with two home runs and a steal. Sure, today he has five homers and a 132 OPS+ on the season, but that's largely on an 8-for-11 stretch over two games last week.

No, "132 OPS+" is not my argument for Bradley, who as of Thursday evening is owned in 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues. My argument for Bradley is also my argument for intelligent fantasy playing.

See, traditional fantasy means 5x5. On offense, that's batting average, home runs, runs, RBI, steals. It was the easiest and smartest way to play, once upon a time. Of my seven leagues this year, four still use batting average, and three use those exact 5x5 categories. It's simple, it's basic. It's also dumb.

Homers, fine. I might prefer total bases, but I get it. Steals, sure, even if you'd be better off using net steals. Runs, RBI, whatever, it'd be tough to escape them in the game as we've established it. For better or worse, those four categories at least work. But batting average? Why on earth are we still using batting average as a fantasy category when on-base percentage is a thing?

Why do we play fantasy? As I understand it, the game is and pretty much always has been a chance for the average Joe to as closely as possible approximate what it's like to run an actual team in whatever sport. When possible — defense aside, I guess, because it doesn't really work for these purposes — we want the best real players and the best fantasy players to be the same names.

And we do that by ignoring walks? Carlos Santana, Joc Pederson, Jose Bautista walk all the dang time, and we're just going to pretend that, what, didn't happen? No, leagues that still work with batting average, with standard 5x5, are doing themselves a disservice, and frankly, just playing the game wrong.

But I write Deep League Thoughts. And deeper leagues tend to be smarter leagues, and smarter leagues tend to be OBP leagues.

Which brings me back to Bradley. This season, he has a .247 batting average, even after his recent hot streak. But that's accompanied by a .349 on-base percentage that is significantly more impressive. Through his minor-league career, too, he's been a walker, with a walk rate above 10 percent in every year of his career before last year's disaster.

It looks like the Red Sox are going to give Bradley every chance down the stretch. We know his defensive capabilities already, and there's still some reason to think that offense is going to develop. He's owned in a quarter of leagues. My arguments from April, about playing time being helpful, still applies, and at least of late, he's actually hitting, too. In a standard 5x5 league, Bradley isn't special. Or at least, he isn't yet. But in deeper, smarter leagues? This guy has gone from a bust to someone who is becoming interesting.