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There was a bit of a kerfuffle on Opening Day when Lou Piniella elected to replace Kosuke Fukudome in center field for a defensive sub – Joey Gathright – but then did not slide Fukudome over to right field to replace Milton Bradley.

Fukudome was one of the best defensive right fielders in the National League last year (perhaps his only redeeming characteristic), so the move raised some eyebrows. Bradley’s response was his typical (and loveable) “well of course I stayed in, I’m awesome at everything, including defense.”

Well, actually, he might be right.

The sad thing is, until his knee injury at the end of 2007, he had been a quality defensive outfielder, capable of playing all three spots when healthy. In 2006 (one of the rare seasons he actually spent more than 800 innings in the field) his UZR in right field was 8.7 and his +/- rating was a minus-seven. Obviously, that’s not a stellar +/- number, but his UZR would have ranked him fourth among all right fielders if he had played enough innings to qualify for the leader boards. As for 2008, since he played in the outfield for only 120 innings, it’s difficult to make an accurate judgment about how his surgery affected his mobility. The Hardball Times.

Translation: when he’s been healthy, Milton Bradley has been a very good defensive outfielder. Of course, that “when he’s been healthy” part is a fairly huge concession.

Good defense is a bonus, ultimately, though. How many times will there really be a question of whom to replace in the outfield for a defensive sub? And how many of those times would you really be willing to lose Bradley’s bat? Bradley is in the lineup to hit. That he has to play defense while he hits is merely a simultaneously unfortunate and fortune side effect of the Cubs playing in the National League.

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