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Archie Bradley, relief ace

Bradley had all the tools to be an ace out of the ‘pen. He has since utilized them to near perfection.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps I’m making a generalization that doesn’t go for all baseball writers, but it’s hard to write baseball articles in April. There is so little data to work with.

This past April, I thought that Jason Vargas, Mike Leake and the entire Orioles starting rotation were all good. We all know how those assumptions turned out. (You can read those pieces here, here and here, respectively, if you need a laugh.)

One article that I believe I did hit the mark on, though, was about Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley.

Basing my entire article around just 9 23 innings pitched, I gave four reasons why Bradley could end up being a top-notch reliever in Arizona: velocity, arsenal, longevity and (of course) beard.

I concluded my piece with this:

Bradley may have a chance to become one of the league’s best relievers, if things work out in his favor. It’s hard to know whether he will become the next Andrew Miller, or even the next Chris Devenski, but it is easy to see the comparisons between all three as former starters.

But, if the Diamondbacks use him correctly, Bradley could be an asset that very few teams have out of their bullpen: a “long-man” that can pitch in high leverage situations. And, that is what makes this transition so exciting for both Bradley and Arizona.

Bradley now has thrown 62 23 innings this year. He has a 1.29 ERA and a 68:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53 games, adding 20 holds and blowing just five saves. His 2.49 FIP is still solid because of his great K%-BB%, but it might be aided by a bit of luck because Bradley has allowed just three homers all year. That could also explain why DRA doesn’t like him as much, pegging him at a much more pedestrian 3.63 mark.

Anyway, the results are there, and now there is enough data to reevaluate. Using those four categories again, how well does Bradley stack up with the best of the best out of the bullpen?

Velocity

As September has rolled around, Bradley’s velocity continues to be excellent. His fastball continues to sit in the 96-97 mph range, and he has even hit 99 mph on the radar gun a few times throughout the season.

In the age of 100-mph relievers, Bradley’s fastball doesn’t quite pop off the page as it may have even just 10 years ago. Digging just slightly further makes it pop once again.

Even in this relief-heavy game, Bradley manages to stand head and shoulders above the competition. He has thrown the eighth-most pitches at 95 mph or higher among relief pitchers this season. His transition from starter to reliever has made the fastball his best weapon.

The fastest pitch Bradley ever recorded as a starting pitcher was “just” 96.97 mph, in September 2016. Since transitioning to the bullpen, Bradley’s average fastball velocity has been 96.56 mph. As with many former starters, Bradley’s stuff is able to play up out of the bullpen, and that has made his four-seamer one of the most effective pitches in his arsenal.

According to Statcast data over at Baseball Savant, hitters are hitting just .195 against Bradley’s four-seam fastball this season. He has generated 77 whiffs with the pitch, ranking 16th among Major League relief pitchers.

Check out the difference in hitter performance against Bradley’s fastball over the past three years:

Opponent performance vs. Bradley’s fastball

Year Pitches AVG SLG 1B 2B 3B HR Whiff%
Year Pitches AVG SLG 1B 2B 3B HR Whiff%
2017 729 0.195 0.270 25 6 2 1 11.9%
2016 1747 0.310 0.507 67 28 3 12 7.3%
2015 467 0.266 0.404 18 4 0 3 6.0%

The fastball has become an elite option for Archie Bradley.

Arsenal

I touted Bradley’s ability to throw multiple pitches in my April article, and I think this is the part of his game in which I missed the mark.

Even then, it was no secret that Bradley’s fastball was going to be his overwhelming No. 1 option. Within those first 10 innings, though, Bradley still seemed to be experimenting with his overall arsenal before deciding upon a couple pitches for the long haul.

Archie Bradley’s 2017 pitch usage

Date FB% SI% CU% CU%
Date FB% SI% CU% CU%
Through Apr. 18 57.66% 8.03% 18.98% 15.33%
Since 71.41% 6.03% 21.11% 1.33%
Full Season 69.46% 6.31% 20.81% 3.31%

When I wrote my article on April 18, Bradley had thrown 21 cutters. He noted himself that the cutter was being introduced for the 2017 season. It seems to me that he stuck with it for a few weeks but ultimately decided to scrap it. After throwing 21 cutters by the time I wrote my first article, he has thrown just 11 in the five-and-a-half months since. It’s a non-factor.

Looking at Bradley now, though, shows that pitchers make adjustments throughout the entire season. This isn’t new information, but I find it interesting that we are able to see a prime example of a pitcher trying out a new idea but ultimately deciding against it. For Bradley, though, it was probably an easy decision to make; hitters have hit as many homers against that pitch (1) as they have against his fastball in 639 fewer pitches. Perhaps with more time it could have been more successful, but there should be nobody clamoring for Bradley to change himself considering the season he has had.

Overall, though, Bradley is mostly a fastball-curveball pitcher at this point. And who would blame him for relying so heavily on those pitches? As previously mentioned, hitters not are batting .195 against the fastball, but they are batting just .190 against the curveball, too. In fact, Bradley has allowed just one extra-base hit off of the 200 curves he has delivered this year.

Longevity

The third category I used to evaluate Bradley’s potential was his longevity.

As a former starter, I surmised that Bradley had the ability to pitch in many multi-inning, high-leverage situations this season.

While Bradley does rank 20th among relievers in innings pitched this season, I still feel as if the Diamondbacks aren’t using him to his full potential this year. Just 17 of Bradley’s 53 appearances lasted longer than three outs, and his three longest outings — all eight outs or more — all took place during April.

Bradley did pitch a two-inning outing on August 24, but his last one before that was at the beginning of July.

While he is certainly the exception to the rule, let’s compare Bradley to Astros relief ace Chris Devenski. Of Devenski’s 54 appearances, 22 have been for more than an inning, or almost 41 percent. While the difference of just five outings may not seem like a big deal, Devenski has thrown almost 10 more innings this season than Bradley. That’s a huge advantage for the Astros that the Diamondbacks aren’t getting by using Bradley mainly as a one-inning guy.

It’s not Bradley’s fault that he hasn’t pitched as much as he should have this season. Still, though, the Diamondbacks shouldn’t see him as a setup man. Having Bradley work like Devenski would provide a huge boost for them in the playoffs, especially in a potential win-or-go-home NL Wild Card game.

Beard

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Still good, just like Archie Bradley, relief ace himself.


Statistics updated through games played on Sunday, September 3.

Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.