With Liam Hendriks signing with the White Sox, the reliever market appears to be unclogged. The Astros signed Pedro Báez on Wednesday, and the Phillies followed that up by signing Archie Bradley to a one-year, $6 million contract.
At the beginning of the offseason, Bradley joined Kolten Wong, Brad Hand, et al. as a free agent who wouldn’t have been available in a year approaching anything to normal. The Reds non-tendered the reliever after acquiring him just one month prior in a trade with the Diamondbacks. The Reds didn’t just throw back a player to be named later or cash considerations either. They sent back utility player Josh VanMeter and center field prospect Stuart Fairchild to ultimately get 7 2⁄3 innings of Bradley’s service.
It’s not as if Bradley was disastrous in those smattering of innings either. The only run he surrendered during the regular season came on a solo shot off the bat of Edwin Encarnación. Bradley gave up the only run of the 13-inning duel against Atlanta in Game 1 of the Wild Card series, but even then, he got three straight ground balls. On the whole of 2020, Bradley pitched to a 2.59 FIP, striking out 24.7 percent of batters while walking just 4.1 percent.
MLB Trade Rumors projected Bradley for a salary in the range of $4.3 million to $5.7, and that kind of performance for that price tag should have been an easy pick-up for Cincinnati. However, all the teams in the NL Central are playing “the division title is lava,” and are doing everything they can to avoid winning it. So, they let Bradley go.
Finances were the impetus for the decision to cut him, but a loss of fastball velocity didn’t help Bradley’s case either. Since 2017, when Bradley moved to the bullpen fulltime, his fastball has been gradually losing heat every year. In 2020, Bradley’s fourseamer only clocked at 94.1 mph, 1.4 mph slower than what it registered in the previous year. It’s possible that an irregular ramp-up to the season impacted his ability to get ready, but generally, pitchers throw a bit harder in July and August.
Over the last two seasons, Bradley has lost spin rate on his fastball, too. In 2017, Bradley averaged 2,378 rpm on his fastball, which was good enough to rank him in the 83rd percentile. In 2020, his spin rate was just 2,214 or in the 34th percentile. This hasn’t been a huge problem just yet. Bradley’s rarely-thrown sinker got whomped in 2020 (.937 wOBA against, lol) but the fourseamer’s induced swinging strike rate was as good as it has been in the past three years.
If Bradley is as good as he’s been in the past three years, that’s a vast improvement for Philadelphia. The Phillies ‘pen combined for a 7.06 ERA in 2020, and unsurprisingly, fixing that has been a priority for Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld. The Phillies have added José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod in trades and they have signed Neftalí Feliz and Michael Ynoa to minor-league contracts. Alvarado and Coonrod likely make it on the big league roster, but the Phillies were buying low and just hoping things come together for one of them.
Bradley is the only consistent option that has been added to the mix. Presently, the Phillies bullpen looks a repeat of 2020’s but with Archie Bradley. At least that’s one step in the right direction.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.