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2021 player preview: Archie Bradley

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He’s taken to Philly like a fish to water. But can he pitch?

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Sometimes, a guy just fits.

Archie Bradley’s signing with the Phillies kind of came out of the blue. There weren’t many rumors floating the team was interested until less than 24 hours before he actually came here. Once here though, he has become a fan favorite already by tweeting up a storm.

Bradley was a Phanatic- and Gritty-themed tweet away from wrapping himself in bulletproof Twitter armor, rendering him untouchable from any and all trolls on the world wide web. It’s awesome and great.

But....

....now what? Instead of going with a positive and negative, we’re going to swap the discussions for today.

What could go wrong in 2021

Let’s face a few facts.

Fact 1: Bradley’s fastball velocity has been on a downward slope for the past few years and for a pitcher that relies on the pitch as much as he does, that ain’t good.

Fact 2: Bradley’s other pitch that has the most usage, his curveball, is not the high spin monster we’ve come to expect (rightly or wrongly) these days from power relievers out of the bullpen.

Fact 3: both of these previous facts have led to the expected production against these pitches to rise with a slight decrease last year in a smaller sample size.

What we can determine from this is that perhaps Bradley is not as dominant as we had believed when he was first introduced. We had been so anxious to see someone, anyone, that was different from the dreck that inhabited last year’s bullpen that we praised the signing of Bradley. This is not the wrong take to have either, as Bradley is an improvement, a dramatic one at that! (seriously, did you see Brandon Workman pitch last year?)

What the fear is is that these numbers, the ones you find when you dig in a little bit into his data set, are going to continue to erode in 2021 and Bradley will present the team with a version of a relief pitcher that is similar to what they trotted out last year.

What could go right in 2021

Prior to his trade to Cincinnati, Bradley wasn’t exactly having a bang-up year with Arizona. He wasn’t bad, but he also wasn’t lights out.

2020 w/ Arizona: 10 23 IP, 26.7 K%, 6.7 BB%, .448 BABIP

When he was traded to the Reds, something clicked. Though it was an extremely small sample size (thanks Covid), Bradley was exceptional.

2020 w/ Cincinnati: 7 IP, 21.4 K%, 0.0 BB%, .143 BABIP

It’s amazing what can happen over a small sample size. Bradley went from merely ok, even a bit unlucky, with Arizona to dominant Godzilla man in Cincinnati. In roughly the same number of “events”, batters hit the balls less hard while he was in Cincinnati, at a lower launch angle, and at a slower exit velocity. So something changed. What was it? There isn’t much evidence that exists because of how little he pitched in 2020 as to what changed when he was traded since a lot of the pitch usage stayed roughly the same, but there were some subtle hints of where in the zone Bradley should be playing. There is the slightest hint that the Reds encouraged Bradley to live up in the zone more often than the coaching staff did in Arizona, but again, the evidence is small enough as to be called negligible. Perhaps it can simply be chalked up to having a good run of appearances while with the Reds, who knows.

What we can hope for is that whatever evidence the Phillies saw that gave them a good feeling that Bradley will improve in 2021, we have to trust that it is good evidence. Reuniting with Caleb Cotham, a coach on the staff in Cincinnati, can only be a good thing. Whatever the reason, Bradley will be an important part of the pitching staff this season, especially as the team seeks to exorcise their 2020 bullpen demons.