Despite recording the sixth-most saves dating back to the start of the second half of 2019 through the end of last season, Archie Bradley lost the closer role after being traded to Cincinnati then entered free agency via being non-tendered by them in the offseason. Perhaps the opportunity to return to the ninth inning weighed into Bradley accepting a one-year contract to help bolster 2020's worst bullpen, Philadelphia. Last year the Phillies bullpen owned a collective ERA over seven while blowing eight leads of three runs costing them a spot in the playoffs.

Although Héctor Neris remains in Philadelphia, he lost his grip on the ninth inning prior to the team adding Brandon Workman then both scuffled down the stretch. Bradley brings a higher velocity fastball with him to the Phillies, something new president of baseball operations David Dombrowski prefers.

During 2020, Bradley went 2-0 with six saves over 18.1 innings with a pristine 18:3 K:BB in them. He owned a 2.95 ERA, 3.44 SIERA and 1.09 WHIP with a 24.7 strikeout percentage and 4.1 percent walk rate. Bradley's swinging strike percentage of 9.4 accompanied a 79.4 contact percent, 88.5 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) rate and 30.4 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage. Hope lies in a slight change to his arsenal holding displayed last season carrying over, especially if the usage rises.

Bradley increased his change-up rate in 2020 to 11.6 percent, up from 5.8 percent in 2019 but much more effective in terms of generating swinging strikes. Here's his repertoire from last season with some indicators included courtesy of Statcast:

  • Bradley Four-Seam Fastball: 59.8 percent usage, .260 xBA, .328 xwOBA, 24.3 whiff percentage, 22.2 put away percent, 23.3 K%
  • Bradley Curve: 22.5 percent usage, .259 xBA, .275 xwOBA, 16.7 whiff percentage, 27.8 put away percent, 26.3 K%
  • Bradley Change-up: 11.6 percent usage, .125 xBA, .141 xwOBA, 38.9 whiff percentage, 25 put away percent, 37.5 K%

It's not really difficult to notice how well Bradley's change-up performed with more use last season. Trying to discern how to evaluate how he deploys the pitch from the small sample in 2021 becomes more difficult. Before delving into his pitches on Brooks Baseball, mining a few more numbers from Statcast in terms of last year may help.

Bradley yielded 51 batted ball events with five barrels (9.8 percent), an 86.7 MPH average exit velocity and 33.3 percent hard hit rate. Overall, Bradley produced a .249 expected batting average (xBA), .432 expected slugging (xSLG) and .297 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). His 4.01 expected ERA sits above his actual ERA and SIERA but it's based on quality of contact. In order to succeed in Philadelphia, Bradley needs to induce more ground balls since his six home runs the last two years would translate to 12 expected home runs if they occurred in Citizens Bank Park.

Once again, the change-up may be the key. Using Brooks Baseball to hone in on swinging strike percentage and ground ball rate by pitch, here's Bradley's arsenal once again:

  • Bradley Four-Seam Fastball: 9.5 SwStr%, 31.3 GB%
  • Bradley Curve: 7.6 SwStr%, 35.7 GB%
  • Bradley Change-up: 21.9 SwStr%, 60 GB%

To survive in Philadelphia, Bradley may need to throw more curves and hope it's performance migrates closer to his 2019 results with the pitch, especially the 12.7 swinging strike percentage and 31.4 strikeout percent. Plus, with a full spring training Bradley's fastball velocity average may return to above 95 MPH which remains a key to his success recording strikeouts. Since the start of 2018, 67.8 percent of his strikeouts came as a result of a pitch 95 MPH or higher, the fifth-highest percentage among qualified relievers the last three seasons.

Despite not taking over as the closer in Arizona until the trade deadline in August of 2019, Bradley secured 24 saves before being dealt to the Reds. Expanding his sample size, here are his numbers from the second half of 2019 through last year:

  • Bradley 2H 2019-through-2020: 4-1, 24 Saves, 50 IP, 51:16 K:BB, 2.16 ERA, 3.83 SIERA, 1.08 WHIP, 25.4 K%, 8 BB%, 17.4 K-BB%, 8.5 SwStr%

After his signing with the Phillies, the front office would not announce who the closer in 2021 projects to be. It may come down to how Bradley and Neris throw in spring training but due to Bradley's ability to keep traffic off the bases with a lower WHIP in the time frame above, it may be his job to lose in Philadelphia. Since the projection systems prefer not to list saves, it's worthwhile to view his results from the last three seasons:

  • Bradley Last Three Years: 10-10, 27 Saves, 161.2 IP, 181:58 K:BB, 3.45 ERA, 3.56 SIERA, 1.26 WHIP, 26.5 K%, 8.5 BB%, 18 K-BB%, 9.5 SwStr%

There's a chance Bradley registers 20-plus saves with the Phillies before heading back to the free agent market. With so many teams needing closers, it's tough to bet Bradley decided to join a team as a set-up reliever during negotiations. Heeding his recent results, an ERA in the 3.25-to-3.50 range should be in reach and hope he uses his curve and change-up more to slightly boost his strikeout totals. If his fastball velocity returns and he can generate some more ground balls, Bradley may make for a perfect second closer to target at his price point in drafts.


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