Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley has seen a game blow up in his face a few times throughout his 25 appearances in 2019.
Never had it been so clear on his actual face.
Bradley showed visible frustration just before his last out of a 1.2-inning outing on Tuesday. And as he left the mound for the dugout during 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he shouted pointed, self-directed words into his glove.
By the end of the night, Bradley had allowed four hits and three earned runs. His season ERA had increased to 5.13.
In a vacuum, it was an Arizona loss anyway. But considering Bradley’s ERA has crept up from 1.93 exactly a month ago despite a demotion, the concern couldn’t be shrugged away by D-backs manager Torey Lovullo.
“I think I’m watching and managing the game and seeing some frustration, and I just want him to step back and execute a gameplan and execute pitches,” Lovullo told reporters. “Sometimes he throws pitches and you’re just scratching your head as to how it’s getting squared up. But we’re constantly trying to monitor that, we’re teaching, talking to (him). Hopefully there’s a situation where it’s going to start to pick up again.
“I’m concerned as I would be with anybody that gets squared up when you’re throwing quality pitches. Maybe there were misses in the zone.”
The D-backs would have to review the film to determine what exactly bit Bradley on Wednesday. Nevertheless, a May 6 demotion to keep him away from the heart of opponents’ lineups hasn’t paid dividends.
Scan Baseball Savant’s batted ball charts, and what’s happening to Bradley isn’t that batters are teeing off on his pitches. Bradley allowed three hard-hit balls — those with exit velocities above 95 mph — on Tuesday night, but over the course of this season, that hasn’t been the norm.
But players are getting on base. Of pitchers who have thrown 20 innings or more, Bradley has has the 11th-highest opponent on-base percentage (.403) and a .309 average against him.
Bradley has disallowed a baserunner in just four of his 25 appearances, and his 17 walks in 26.1 innings pitched is quickly approaching his totals from each of the last two years. He walked 21 batters over 73.0 innings back in his breakout 2017 campaign and 20 opponents through 71.2 frames during a down 2018 season.
It all comes back to Bradley’s fastball, which he’s attempting to use less while increasing the usage of his curve.
“Archie’s working really hard. We’re working on a couple things with him, trying to get his fastball spin rate back to where it was with him,” D-backs assistant GM Jared Porter told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf. “I think it’s finding that right arm slot, right pitch usage.”
Porter added that the team hasn’t considered optioning Bradley to work on his stuff in Triple-A. The assistant GM also doesn’t believe Bradley is a one-pitch reliever.
The advanced pitch value numbers from FanGraphs say that work has paid off for Bradley’s curveball. But according to FanGraphs, the analytics also say that his four-seam pitch values are in the negatives and have steeply declined in the past two seasons.
It appears the flamethrower’s execution of his best pitch could be holding him back.