For Shame - Wherein I Address the Milton Bradley Question Paul Sullivan Would Not

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For Shame – Wherein I Address the Milton Bradley Question Paul Sullivan Would Not

Chicago Cubs

Although I often bang the drum for “new media” in world still dominated by the “old media,” I do not fancy myself one of those hateful bloggers, filled with nothing but spite for traditional sportswriters. Frankly, I find many of them to be excellent writers, and I generally believe you get to a position like that because you know a thing or two about how to pen an article.

But occasionally, they slip up.

Chicago Tribune writer Paul Sullivan is the target of a good many barbs by the bloggers in the Cublogoverse – sometimes ill-deserved, other times not. In full disclosure, I read him daily. In double full disclosure, that’s usually simply because he has access that I do not.

Sullivan recently took a mailbag full of questions from readers, addressing each with the slightly acerbic tongue that makes him interesting. But Sullivan’s response to one question really got my blood boiling. To me, it felt like an abuse of his position, an unnecessary denigration of one of his readers, and a complete abdication of his duties as a Chicago Cubs sportswriter. And Sullivan should be ashamed. The question and answer:

Hi Paul, This may be contrary to the Cubs’ plan when they acquired him, but I am wondering if Milton Bradley would be a viable alternative for the lead-off spot if Lou ever really does move Soriano back in the order. Milton’s OBP is good and his BA is improving but he has not really shown the power the Cubs wanted. In the lead-off spot, he might contribute better than anyone else we have. –Bill Wayne, Fitchburg, Wis.

Answer: Not a viable alternative in the lead-off spot, but thanks for asking.

Are you serious? That’s the response?

Paul, you should be ashamed and embarrassed for three reasons:

1.) Your reader, Bill Wayne, took the time and energy to write you with a thoughtful question. And you, in not so many words, call him an idiot.  Your “thanks for asking” reads like a father patting his son on the head after the boy offered to help fix the carburetor. For shame.

2.) If you weren’t going to answer the question, indeed were only going to make Bill look foolish, why in the world did you select and publish the question? So that you could look mighty? Mighty and so knowledgeable that you wouldn’t dare deign to answer such a question? For shame.

3.) The question deserved analysis. That’s your job, Paul. It was a legitimate question, offered by a legitimate fan, and it deserved the thoughtful consideration of an expert to whom that fan looked. And you offered nothing but a dismissive back of your hand. For shame.

So Bill Wayne of Fitchburg, Wisconsin: I’ll answer your question.

Milton Bradley in the lead-off spot is an interesting idea, and it’s not as though no other manager has tried it before: Bradley has led off in 63 games in his career – though most of that came early. He did lead off once last year as a Ranger.

Though on base percentage is not the end-all be-all of a lead-off hitter, most modern minds do believe it heads up the discussion. And Bradley’s certainly got the skills in that regard. His career .369 OBP actually exceeds the average OBP of lead-off hitters in a given year (according to Baseball Reference, it ranges typically between .340 and .350). His .372 OBP this year far exceeds that range.

Speed is an appreciated aspect of any lead-off hitter, though the league is full of lead-off hitters who aren’t burners. Derrek Jeter – perhaps the longest standing and best known lead-off hitter in baseball today hasn’t swiped more than a handful of bases in years (his 17 last year were his most since 2005). And it’s not as though the current lead-off man is what he once was: Alfonso Soriano hasn’t stolen 20 bases since he came to the Cubs.

Since he became a regular, Milton Bradley has averaged double-digit stolen bases – and that’s when it was never asked of him. Bradley is also considered a good base-runner, which is as important, if not more, as some generalized conception of “speed.”

An underrated component of the lead-off hitter’s role is to see pitches, and wear the opposing starter down. The league average pitches per plate appearance (PPA) is right around 3.70. So far in 2009, lead-off hitter Alfonso Soriano has seen an acceptable 3.81 PPA this year (though it drops to a league average 3.70 in his time with the Cubs).

Milton Bradley, on the other hand, sees a whopping 4.13 PPA – good enough for 10th in the National League, and best on the Cubs. Yo.

I would address the “power” issue, but given that the Cubs currently trot out Alfonso Soriano to lead off, clearly they are not concerned with wasted power in the lead-off spot. Further, Bradley’s power is gap-to-gap, and there’s nothing wrong with a lead-off hitter who can smack some doubles. And at least in theory, the Cubs aren’t hurting for run-producers.

So why exactly is it so ridiculous, so “not viable” to suggest that Milton Bradley could be useful to the Cubs in the lead-off spot?

Oh, yes, the injuries. It may make some sense until you allow yourself just a few moments of thought, and two questions: (1) is a player really that much more likely to hurt himself on the base paths while leading off than while hitting anywhere else? (2) is Alfonso Soriano really all that healthy, particularly in the legs?

So, in the end, Bill Wayne of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, it’s a fair question. Would Lou Piniella ever actually consider Bradley in the lead-off spot? Probably not. But that’s at least as due to his stubborn attachment to Alfonso Soriano there as it is to anything that has to do with Bradley’s skill set, specifically. And there is, of course, the recent emergence of Kosuke Fukudome as a “viable alternative.” By his numbers and his approach, Bradley would be a more than adequate lead-off hitter. In fact, given his lack of power this year, it may be the best spot for him and the Cubs right now.

In the end, it’s unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean the suggestion is not an intriguing and possibly good one.

To Paul Sullivan: For shame.

To Bill Wayne of Fitchburg, Wisconsin: Thanks for asking.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.