Archie Bradley is my true love’s gift on the twelfth day of Free Agent Relief Pitchers. However, he is not the last relief pitcher that I’ll be discussing in this series. The Commissioner of Holiday-Themed Baseball Rankings has reviewed my list and ruled that Number Five, Trevor May, is ineligible, on the grounds that he was not a free agent at the time.
I showed the Commissioner what I thought was an air-tight argument, namely, that since “five golden rings” is sung differently than any of the other gifts in the carol from which I derive inspiration, that “Five: Tre-vor Maaaaaaay” was supposed to be different from the “Fo-our: Kirby Yates; Three: Rosenthal; Two-oo: Bradley Hand; and a Liam Hendriks in a pear tree” that follow.
But he was implacable. It’s almost as though he’s the Commissioner of Holiday-Themed Baseball Rankings, but he doesn’t even like holiday-themed baseball rankings.
Well, since I am forced into this position and I clearly in no way decided to do this myself so I could write about an extra relief pitcher, tomorrow will be the twelfth-and-a-half and final Relief Pitcher of the Twelve Days. And this is what has brought us here:
- A brief review of some advanced metrics I cite
- First Day of RPs: Liam Hendriks
- Second Day of RPs: Brad Hand
- Third Day of RPs: Trevor Rosenthal
- Fourth Day of RPs: Kirby Yates
- Fifth Day of RPs: Trevor May
- Sixth Day of RPs: Joakim Soria
- Seventh Day of RPs: Blake Treinen
- Eighth Day of RPs: Alex Colome
- Ninth Day of RPs: Keone Kela
- Tenth Day of RPs: Justin Wilson
- Eleventh Day of RPs: Jake McGee
- Twelfth Day of RPs:
Archie Bradley entered the relief pitcher free agent pool later than the rest of his brethren in this ranking. One can only hope he entered the pool yelling “CANONBAALL!” a) given his long pool-adjacent experience at Chase Field, and b) given that the twelfth day is traditionally for lords, a-leaping. And Bradley deserves a moment of joy and levity, as this extended metaphor moment stemmed from one of the most bizarre non-tender decisions, in my opinion.
Because at the beginning of this month, the Reds signaled that they are clearly prioritizing cutting costs, non-tendering Bradley, and trading their closer, Rasiel Iglesias. Releasing Bradley seemed like a particular blow, not only for the righty’s ability, but since they had so recently acquired him. The Reds had just given up two players, utility infielder Josh VanMeter and outfield prospect Stuart Fairchild, for what amounted to 7.2 innings of relief work. I assume Bradley’s extra year of team control would have certainly factored into his trade cost.
But now: to the winds be free, young Bradley. And indeed, as one of the youngest high-end relief pitchers on the market, the 28-year-old Bradley could garner additional interest. Day Nine’s Keone Kela is also 28, as is Matt Wisler, who nearly made this list; now I’m glad he didn’t, as he signed with Giants and the Commissioner would have me on the hook for two more pitchers. (Technically, there’s also the 26-year-old Roberto Osuna, whom, as I mentioned in my first piece, I decline to discuss due to his injury.)
Twelve Beards a-Leaping
Bradley struggled in his early role as a starter with the Diamondbacks, but has transitioned well in his four years in the bullpen, totaling a 2.98 ERA and a 3.17 FIP since 2017. Bradley became Arizona’s primary closer at the end of July in 2019, picking up 18 saves.
And reintroducing his changeup to his arsenal in 2019 led to a career-high 27.4% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, it also led to an unseemly 11.4% walk rate and a 1.44 WHIP. The changeup was outside of the zone 74.7% of the time in 2019. If a pitch dives out of the zone at the last second, fooling batters, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But with the sinker and curveball also playing out of the zone, 62.7% and 59.5% of the time, respectively, the result was a lack of control.
However, Bradley’s control seemed to improve on the whole in 2020, with an excellent 4.1% walk rate, and a 1.09 WHIP. The changeup showed the biggest improvement here, falling out of the zone only 53.1% of the time. Nothing else about the pitch’s movement changed, but it garnered an extra 6.5% in whiffs in 2020, bringing it up to a 38.9% whiff rate. Hopefully, he’s learning how to better command a pitch that was absent from his arsenal for a couple of years.
Given a good 2020 and an even sharper performance in the latter half of 2019—he sported a 2.10 ERA after being given the duties in the ninth—Bradley looks to be putting it together. But with xERAs about a run higher over the past two seasons, he may have been lucky, and emerged the champion of small sample sizes. Still, if we combine his 44 innings of being a closer over 2019 and 2020, he has a 2.45 ERA. It’s certainly good enough to want to see what he can continue to do in a high-leverage role.
His arsenal doesn’t quite have the strikeout ability yet to make him an elite closer, but he has performed capably in the role so far. I’m certainly rooting for him to go somewhere that he has a shot at the job in the ninth, as I’d like to see how he develops there. There’s no FanGraphs crowd-sourced speculation on his contract, but I hope he can get a two-year deal, of at least $4 million per year. With no injuries requiring time off since 2015, his durability and youth make him an excellent bet. Also for the purposes of this holiday shirt.
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