Since being drafted 7th overall in the 2011 Draft, Archie Bradley was supposed to be a foundational piece of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2018 starting rotation. After a strong showing in the Dbacks minor league system in 2013, he appeared to be well on his way to being that guy. However, a couple injury-plagued seasons in 2014 and 2015 followed by an inconsistent 2016 campaign left Bradley on the outside looking in for the rotation. Given that Bradley was too dominant for Reno and there was no place to slot him in the rotation coming out of 2017 Spring Training, Bradley green-lighted the idea of moving to the bullpen to make the team instead of toil in AAA waiting for an injury or something to get an opportunity.
Bradley posted very dominant numbers out of the bullpen with a 1.73 ERA (278 ERA+) over 73 innings and holding batters to a .248 wOBA against him. In addition to the gaudy numbers, his beard, competitive fire, and the most improbable triple in MLB history has turned him into a major fan favorite in Arizona. His beard is printed on shirts and also a novelty souvenir for fans. In a Diamondbacks win vs. the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, Bradley screamed out “This is our house, let’s go!” after a scoreless outing, which very much resonated with a lot of Dbacks fans. With his successful season in the bullpen and Bradley’s preference for starting, GM Mike Hazen was asked about the organization’s plans for him when Spring Training starts in February.
He then later added,
In 2018, he’s likely headed back to his back-end of the bullpen role with the only question being whether or not he closes. The team will be returning all 5 starters they finished the year with. Zack Greinke, Zack Godley, Robbie Ray, and Taijuan Walker are already locks to make the rotation, there’s only one spot open and that is only if the team trades Patrick Corbin. The team does have Anthony Banda, Taylor Clarke, and Jon Duplantier waiting in the wings from the minors. In my opinion, Bradley provides more value today as an 8th or 9th inning reliever than he would as the 5th starter in the rotation mostly because his secondary stuff and primarily his 3rd pitch (cutter) hasn’t developed enough to put him in that role.
If Bradley is back in the bullpen for 2018, the natural thought is to put him in the closer role. However, I do find that to be a waste of his talents especially when considering that he was the team’s most consistent reliever. I personally prefer Torey Lovullo to have the flexibility of being able to bring him into games when he’s needed as opposed to a specific inning every time. The team has been linked with Fernando Rodney, who served as the team’s closer in 2017. Rodney posted his 2nd highest strikeout rate (28.1%) and second highest strikeout minus walk rate (16.9%) of his career, but a shift in batted ball tendencies particularly with a big drop in soft contact rate and a big increase in hard contact rate is concerning moving forward. On days Rodney had unusually poor command and stuff, things got ugly quick once batters realized it.
Advanced metrics thought he was a better pitcher than his 4.23 ERA, with an xFIP of 3.71 and SIERA of 3.61. Rodney’s fastball velocity continued to drop, although his sinker-changeup combination still proved to be effective overall. Rodney is probably a bargain bin closer for a team that has a tight budget like the Dbacks in 2017 or is looking at someone to flip for prospects like the Padres did in 2016. If the Dbacks decide to move on, Bradley is going to be the player mentioned the most to pick up the closer role due to his dominant 2017 season. As far as I’m concerned, the problem in the Dbacks bullpen is going to be getting the ball to the closer as opposed to who’s closing.