- Average Ranking (High/Low/Most Common): 30.37 (8/48/44)
- Seasons: 2015-2017
- Stats: 97 games, 34 starts, 250.1 IP, 4.17 ERA, 108 ERA+, 4.3 bWAR
- Best season: 2017 - 63 games, 73.0 IP, 1.73 ERA, 278 ERA+, 3.7 bWAR
Our next player in the Top 50 countdown has been working diligently in the offseason to launch himself into the Arizona sports stratosphere. Archie Bradley has seemingly not had a day off since the Diamondbacks were eliminated from the postseason making appearances at games for Arizona State Men’s Basketball, Grand Canyon University Men’s Basketball, the Arizona Coyotes, and the Phoenix Suns. His popularity is largely a result of his tremendous success during the 2017 season, his first as a member of the bullpen.
The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted him with the 7th overall pick of the 2011 draft out of Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma. It was a risky selection at the time given the that Bradley had committed to play football at the University of Oklahoma. In fact, it took the Diamondbacks until the day of the deadline to sign draft selections to come to an agreement with him. Soon after, fans and scouts alike were eagerly awaiting his big league arrival as he was ranked the #25 prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season just behind current teammate Taijuan Walker listed at #20. The expectation was that he would be developed as a starting pitcher behind a dominant fastball and plus knuckle-curveball. As to be expected with an 18 year old pitcher, Bradley initially struggled with his control owning a 4.7 BB/9 in the minor leagues as he continued to hone his craft.
“I’d try to throw a pitch right on the outside corner instead of to the outside part of the plate. I wasn’t doing a good enough job of just throwing strikes and it became kind of a mental thing. I started walking guys and it kind of got in my head. Any time I’d walk a guy, it just kept rolling and rolling like a snowball affect. When you’ve been successful for so long, and feel you have an understanding of something, and then things start to go bad, you get confused. You don’t understand what’s going on. In a way, you kind of create a problem that wasn’t really even there.”
2013 was by far his most successful season in the minors. Between 26 starts and 152 innings at Class A Visalia and AA Mobile, he had 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts. That performance earned him a selection to the MiLB Futures Game, and he was subsequently named the Diamondbacks Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He appeared to be on the fast track to the parent club and was given an invite to Spring Training in 2014 with a chance to make the roster. Still only 21 years old, his performance was not inspiring enough to warrant adding him to the roster and he was sent to AAA Reno. That disappointment from missing the team that spring worsened when he was shut down a month into the season with pain in his elbow. After Archie returned in late June, he was never quite the same and observers began to worry of a larger issue when his pitches lost their effectiveness.
When the 2015 season had rolled around, anticipations for him were reasonably in question given his struggles in 2014. Archie was aware that the hype was tamed as he again competed for a rotation spot during Spring Training.
“Maybe I would have toned it down a little bit as far as not letting all the media and all the, I guess, hype or expectations ride on me,” he said. “I put pressure on myself anyway, and my goal was to make the team last year. It’s the same this year, but I was so caught up on every pitch and every outing. You just can’t pitch like that. You don’t succeed when your mind-frame is like that and you put that much pressure on yourself. For me, I would definitely say after the bad year I had last year, I’m coming in this year with a chip on my shoulder with something to prove,” he said. “Last year was just a bad year for me. I’m looking for a bounce-back year.”
That newfound mindset resulted in a successful spring, and he had earned that 5th spot in the rotation at the conclusion of camp. Finally, after 4 years of development in the minors and being consistently ranked as a Top 50 prospect fans would get their first look at him. Archie made his major league debut on April 11th, 2015 against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw at Chase Field and delivered a gem pitching 6 innings of scoreless 1 hit ball. His following two starts instilled further confidence that he was here to stay when he managed to only surrender 3 earned runs over a season total of 18.2 innings. That building confidence came to a screeching halt on April 28th against the Colorado Rockies, his 4th start of the season, when Carlos Gonzalez laced a comebacker to the mound in the 2nd inning which struck Bradley in the face. As frightening of a moment for those who witnessed the incident in person, on television, and for Mr. Bradley himself, we were given an early glimpse at his persistent upbeat personality when he posted a picture of his swollen face that same night from the hospital letting everyone know that he would be just fine.
Unfortunately, that incident seemed to derail his season from that point forward. Bradley surprisingly returned shortly after his 15 day disabled list stint to take the mound against the Philadelphia Phillies, but was largely not the same pitcher that he was during the first month of the season. He surrendered 19 earned runs through 4 starts and 15.2 innings before he was mercifully put back on the disabled list with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. It was painfully obvious that he was brought back entirely too soon, and the incident seemed to alter his approach on the mound.
“You can say you’re okay and everything’s fine but realistically it was a very dramatic event.”
In the offseason prior to the 2016 season, the Diamondbacks brass brought in Zack Greinke via free agency, Shelby Miller through trade, and Patrick Corbin was expected to pitch most of the season after recovering from Tommy John surgery which further narrowed Bradley’s window to make the pitching staff out of camp. He was ultimately beat out by Robbie Ray and Rubby De La Rosa for the final two rotation spots and sent back down to AAA Reno. Injury and ineffectiveness from all named above resulted in him being called back up to make a pair of spot starts before becoming a permanent member of the rotation at the end of May. The 2016 season was woefully disappointing for the Diamondbacks as a team, and although Bradley’s traditional stats were unattractive his peripherals gave room for optimism. Archie set the Diamondbacks rookie record for K/9 at 9.08 with a minimum of 20 starts. He finished the season with an 89 ERA+ in 26 starts.
For the third straight spring in a row, Archie was going to have to earn his spot on the rotation this time sporting an impressive beard which had not been shaved since November. However, Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo were now in charge of crafting the roster and were aware that there was no room left for Archie to develop down in the minor leagues, but they did not have a spot for him in the rotation either. They made the wise decision of putting him in the bullpen initially as the middle reliever long man. His stuff unsurprisingly played up in the bullpen gaining about 3 mph on his fastball and 2 mph on his curve, and his sheer dominance almost immediately saw him moved towards high leverage situations at the back end of games. Working exclusively out of the bullpen he had no usage for his secondary pitches dropping his changeup and sinker entirely and instead relying on his two best pitches, the fastball and knuckle-curve. He gave up only 4 home runs all season in 73 innings pitched with 3 of them coming through the months of April and May. His BB/9 dropped to 2.6 down from 4.3 in 2016 and 5.6 in 2015 while his K/9 improved to 9.7.
Improvement on the stat sheet was not his only area of growth in 2017. Arizona fans were witness to an unstoppable growth of confidence and leadership from Bradley which was something we had not seen from him previously. His body language was relaxed when he was not pitching and hyper focused when he was. The prime example of this was during the dog days of summer on August 8th against the Los Angeles Dodgers when Archie famously exclaimed, “This is our house!” after retiring the Dodgers in the 8th inning to maintain the Diamondbacks lead.
“You look up and see the blue in the stands, and this is our house, man,” Bradley said. “I wanna win at home, and I wanna see Diamondback fans in the stands. I don’t like seeing blue in the stands. It had nothing to do with the standings, had nothing to do with the playoff race. It had to do with tonight and our fans being better than theirs and us winning. I’m a competitor, and it was just the emotions coming out in me.”
Archie Bradley’s eye popping 278 ERA+ in the bullpen was a significant contributing factor towards the Diamondbacks 2017 success. Perhaps his pinnacle moment of the season came during the Wild Card Game against the Colorado Rockies. The game was a stomach churning contest with the Diamondbacks leading only by 1 run when he entered the game in the top of the 7th inning. Only this time it wasn’t quite his pitching performance that captured the enthusiasm of a sold out Chase Field. After retiring the only batter he faced that inning, Torey Lovullo surprisingly left Archie in to hit with two outs and runners on first and second. Bradley had a career OPS+ of -49 and 6 hits to his name in 61 at bats prior, so it was quite the risky move. On a 2-2 count he laced a triple (this still gets me amped typing this) to left center scoring Jake Lamb and Daniel Descalso, and the home field crowd (myself included) went absolutely berserk. Through no fault of his own, he was clearly gassed the next half inning from his three bagger giving up back to back solo homers to Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story and a double to Pat Valaika.
Archie has had quite the journey as a 25 year old highly touted prospect. He made significant strides forward both on and off the field last season. The question that remains now is whether his dominance will continue in the bullpen, or if he will be given the opportunity to prove himself as a starting pitcher later on down the road. He will almost certainly begin the year at the back end of the bullpen, but the plan is to stretch him out as a starter during Spring Training because that is what he is accustomed to. For our sake, let us hope that injury to the starting pitching staff does not force him into that role on short notice.