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Archie Bradley fills a desperate need for the Phillies bullpen

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The veteran right-hander will be a solid late-inning option for Joe Girardi.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Phillies bullpen had a desperate need for speed.

Coming into the off-season, it was no secret the Phils’ relief corps needed a serious upgrade. An MLB-worst 7.06 ERA pretty much told the story of a unit that not only had difficulty extinguishing late inning fires but often times threw gasoline on top of them. So it’s no wonder Dave Dombrowski has focused on attacking the bullpen in his first few months as team president and, on Thursday, he added the biggest name yet when he signed former Reds and Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley to a one-year, $6 million deal.

Bradley was solid in last year’s pandemic shortened season, with a 2.95 ERA and 2.59 FIP in 18.1 innings of work. He earned six saves in 16 appearances between Arizona and Cincinnati, and while his strikeouts per nine (K/9) fell from 10.93 in 2019 to 8.84 last year, his walks per nine (BB/9) also dropped, from 4.52 to 1.47. He pitched especially well after joining the Reds (where new Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham was an assistant), with a 1.17 ERA in six games.

Over the last four seasons, Bradley went from being a failed starting pitching prospect to one of the most consistent relievers in the National League. In 221 games (234.2 IP), he posted a 2.95 ERA and a 3.19 FIP with 9.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 28 saves. Bradley is not generally regarded as a “lock-down” closer, but he has experience in that role and will provide manager Joe Girardi with a reliable option in the latter innings, something the Phils’ skipper did not have last year.

When you watched the Phillies bullpen last season, it was clear they were missing a commodity that most bullpens had an excess of. Speed. According to Fangraphs, Phils relievers averaged 93.0 mph on their fastballs, 24th out of 30 MLB teams. Only two relief pitchers averaged more than 95.0 mph on their fastballs last season: Connor Brogdon (95.3 mph) and JoJo Romero (95.0 mph).

Bradley’s average fastball velocity, according to Baseball Savant, came in at 94.2 mph but prior to last season, Bradley had always averaged more than 95 mph on his fastball. He’s just one of four hard-throwers the Phillies have added to a bullpen that simply didn’t have anyone who could throw 96 mph consistently.

According to Baseball Savant, Sam Coonrod’s average fastball velocity of 98.4 mph last season ranked 5th among all MLB pitchers (starters and relievers) with a minimum of 250 pitches thrown. Jose Alvarado, acquired in a trade from the Rays, averaged 98.0 mph on his fastball in 2019, tied for 8th-fastest in the Majors. Coonrod’s inability to throw strikes in key situations and Alvarado’s injury history and conditioning certainly gives one pause, but it’s clear Dombrowski is trying to fix what had become a major problem amongst Phillies relievers.

No one could throw a fastball by anyone last year.

In a Phils’ ‘pen that allowed an MLB-worst 21.9% home run per fly ball last season, Bradley’s propensity for keeping the ball in the yard will be most welcome.

Bradley is also just 28 years old, has stayed healthy throughout his career, and is the only pitcher in postseason history to hit a triple in a game in which he was not the starting pitcher.

Bradley could be Dombrowski’s one and only expensive free agent reliever addition this off-season. He and Hector Neris will likely combine for 8th and 9th inning duties, with Brogdon, Romero, Alvarado, Coonrod, Ranger Suarez and David Hale likely candidates to start the season in the Phillies’ bullpen. Ramon Rosso and Cole Irvin could also get a look, as will minor league signees Ian Hamilton, Neftali Feliz and Johan Quezada.

Dombrowski spoke all off-season about the need to improve one of the worst bullpens in modern baseball history and, with the addition of Bradley, gave his beleaguered skipper at least one reliable, hard-throwing arm.