Archie Bradley 4.0
I expect Bradley to keep figuring things out in the pen, whether that’s means getting stronger and more effective deeper into the season or a psychological sharpening of purpose as he adjusts to the bullpen lifestyle.
There’s also the potential that his arsenal continues to evolve. He started throwing a sinker last season, a pitch that he’s explored before. A slider also registered on his Statcast ledger, though in very small doses.
A slider would be a significant development because every other pitch he throws moved north to south. If he does indeed start work on a slider that moves on a horizontal plane, that certainly would add a different look.
There are two natural evolutions that loom in Bradley’s potential future: closer and starter. The only thing keeping him from being a closer is when Lovullo chooses to deploy him, but there does not appear to be any plan to make him a 9th inning fixture. The closer role simply isn’t as important as it used to be, and Bradley is already being used in the most high-leverage opportunities possible. Essentially, they could get him more saves, but as far as his importance to the bullpen, he’s already hit his ceiling.
As far he a return to the rotation, historical thinking would suggest his time is running out. He turns 27 in August, meaning he’s still young, but he can officially be referred to as a “veteran.” That said, I won’t close the door on the possibility simply because pitcher usage is changing so much. With the use of the Opener and multi-inning bullpeners, there’s less and less separation between the pen and the rotation.
While rare, it would not be unprecedented for Bradley to establish himself as a starter later in his career. Dave Stewart, Bradley’s one-time GM, moved from the pen to the rotation for the A’s in 1987 at age-30. John Smoltz moved back to the rotation at age 38 after five seasons out of the rotation.
Bradley reinvented himself as a reliever to stay in the game, and it worked. He can make the adjustments. Biggio did the same thing when he moved to second base. Of course, when Biggio eventually moved to centerfield, it was the team’s need driving the decision. Should the Diamondbacks need a starter in the next couple of years, they could turn to Bradley, as they’re doing with Ketel Marte in center this season.
As of right now, however, bullpen arms are difficult to cultivate with any sort of reliability, and the Diamondbacks seem to have found a good one in Archie Bradley 3.0.