by Matt Wilkes

Meet Archie Bradley, new Reds reliever

The Reds acquired right-handed reliever Archie Bradley (glorious beard and all) in a trade deadline deal with the Diamondbacks, sending infielder Josh VanMeter and outfield prospect Stuart Fairchild to Arizona in return.

Player History

Bradley was the seventh overall pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2011 draft. Naturally, he was a top prospect, ranking in the top 100 of every major publication from 2011 to 2015. He reached as high as No. 5 in MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings. Bradley came up as a starting pitcher and made his big-league debut in 2015. In 34 starts over the next two seasons, he never quite lived up to his prospect pedigree, posting a 5.18 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and 4.31 xFIP. Despite peripherals that suggested Bradley pitched better than his ERA, the Diamondbacks moved him to the bullpen in 2017, where he’s remained since.

In a relief role, Bradley has thrived, owning a 2.87 ERA, 3.17 FIP, and 3.59 xFIP in 225.2 innings. He has two qualities any good pitcher needs: the ability to strike hitters out and limiting walks. As a reliever, he owns a 26.8% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate. Bradley did struggle with control in 2019 (11.1% walk rate), but he’s returned to his typical self so far in 2019 (6.7% walk rate).

Pedestrian is the best word to describe Bradley’s ability to limit hard contact. He’s been remarkably consistent in this department throughout his career, never allowing a hard hit rate lower than 36.7% or higher than 38.6% as a reliever. League average for relievers is 36.1%. Still, he’s managed a well above-average .306 xwOBA due to his strikeout numbers, control, and ability to keep the ball on the ground. While not elite at generating ground balls, Bradley owns a 47.2% career ground-ball rate. The average for a reliever is about 43%.

Health — knock on wood — hasn’t been much of a problem for Bradley in his career. He missed time in his rookie year of 2015 after being hit in the face with a line drive and had another stint on the then-disabled list due to shoulder tendinitis. Since then, however, he’s avoided spending any time on the injured list.

For his career as a reliever, Bradley has pretty even splits against lefties (.274 wOBA, .304 xwOBA, 3.34 xFIP) and righties (.293 wOBA, .306 xwOBA, 3.78 xFIP).

Pitch Portfolio

Bradley primarily throws three pitches: a four-seam fastball (62.6%), curveball (22.6%), and changeup (11.0%). He mixes in a sinker on rare occasions (3.9%).

For a pitcher with a high strikeout rate, he doesn’t have one particularly dominant pitch.

The fastball ticked up from 93 to 96 mph after Bradley moved to the ‘pen full time. It fell down to 95 mph in 2018 and ’19, and it’s down to 94 mph in 2020. While his 2020 velocity is still in the 84th percentile, the trend is something to monitor. He hit as high as 98.4 on the fastball last season, but he’s maxed out at 96.7 this year. The results, predictably, haven’t been ideal.

Bradley has relied more on his velocity to get whiffs and weak contact on his fastball. He also gets above average horizontal and vertical movement with the pitch, and its break toward his arm side is particularly effective in getting lefties out. However, his fastball spin is quite low (2,237 rpm, 41st percentile), which makes it more hittable — especially with reduced velocity and command. He’s also suffered from a ridiculously high batting average on balls in play against his fastball (.398 in 2019, .467 in 2020) that’s bound to come down if he can get his command back on track. Former Reds beat writer Zach Buchanan wrote about Bradley’s struggle with fastball command last year.

The curveball is Bradley’s only breaking pitch. It gets very low spin (1,939 rpm, 2nd percentile) and a below-average whiff rate. Last year, batters missed on 30.3% of swings on his curve. League average was 31.7%. He’s also seen his ground-ball rate with the curveball take a nosedive in the last two years; it sat above 60% in every season until 2019, when it fell to 45%. In 2020, it sits at just 25%. He does get a high rate of chases on his curveball, however (30.3% in 2019, 31.6% in 2020).

Bradley picked up a changeup in 2019, and while he hasn’t thrown it much, it shows some promise (37.0% whiff rate, .284 xwOBA).

Where Archie Bradley Fits In

The Reds could slot Bradley in for high-leverage innings, but he’s unlikely to supplant Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, or Lucas Sims for the most important outs of the game unless they’re unavailable. The ERA and peripherals lose a little bit of their luster upon a closer look under the hood. Bradley’s diminishing fastball velocity is a cause for concern, and his curveball command has slipped from its 2017 and 2018 iterations and led to a free fall in his ground-ball rate. The Reds may want to get that worked out before trusting him in the most crucial situations — hopefully, teaming up with Derek Johnson will prove beneficial.

Bradley is certainly still a solid big-league pitcher and a definite upgrade to the bullpen. He’s been remarkably consistent for a reliever, largely avoiding walks while getting his fair share of strikeouts without an elite swing-and-miss offering. Look for the Reds to use him in a variety of roles.

[Photo Credit: Ian D’Andrea]

Matt got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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Thomas Green
Thomas Green
8 months ago

Thanks, Steve. When a pitcher is this far into his career, what’s your sense of the track record of their ability to learn to increase spin rate? Bradley must have pretty good arm speed to throw at that velocity, right? In that case spin adjustments could pay big dividends. But he and the Diamondbacks have to already have known that…

Steve Mancuso
8 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Green

The Houston Astros have been able to make big improvements with several pitchers who were even later into careers than Bradley. I’m thinking of Justin Verlander, Chuck Morton and others. So I think it’s possible. Whether Bradley is one of those guys who is willing to accept suggestions remains to be seen. But he certainly has a large area for improvement.

Thomas Green
Thomas Green
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Mancuso

Thanks, how could I forget about Morton? Here’s hoping he is highly coach-able!