On Monday, Bradford allowed nine balls in play in excess of 103 MPH. His total in seven AAA starts was eight. Against Atlanta, 15 of 18 balls in play were over 90, and the median was 102.9. Bradford’s median exit velocity in AAA is only 87.1.
Bradford can command his fastball to any corner, but he tends focus on the high, outside part of the plate against righties. That type of location was noticeably absent Monday. (Charts below are against RHB only.)
Perhaps Bradford was influenced by the umpire, who didn’t give Bradford the call on two high pitches (and another on the outer edge) that would be robo-umped strikes on a weeknight in the Pacific Coast League. Bradford’s 1st-inning misses:
And, perhaps, the lack of high calls created a downstream effect on his slider. Bradford’s breaker is his weakest pitch, but it’s functional and plays well off a fastball that likes to hunt in the other direction. On Monday, it was as ineffectual as a pitch could be. He threw 11, resulting in seven balls, two homers, a double, and a groundout. No misses, no calls, not even a foul.
In a preview of his impending debut, I mentioned that Bradford solid change isn’t a pure chase pitch. He’ll throw it for strikes. Not so much Monday, which contained his lowest in-zone changeup percentage as well as the most fastballs in the zone by far. Another stat, perhaps the most telling, is that Atlanta offered at fewer outside-the-zone pitches than any of Bradford’s AAA opponents:
Another possibility is the Atlanta’s offense is just really, really good, particularly against lefties, and Bradford could have suffered this fate even if he’d already established himself as a back-end starter. Atlanta is batting .285/.357/.502 against lefty starters.
I don’t think the Rangers were punting this game. Not in 2023. They wanted to give the rotation an extra day of rest while not overtaxing the bullpen, but my thought is the Rangers also believed Bradford could keep the game competitive.
I thought Texas would pull Bradford after four innings and four runs. That’s not quite keeping the game close and isn’t quite saving the bullpen, but it’s on the fringe of both. Bradford had retired seven straight. Instead, Atlanta’s lineup received a third look at him in the 5th, and two more runs scored.