There have been plenty of great surprises on the Orioles this year. In fact, just on the pitching staff alone, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises, and Kyle Bradish is definitely among them.
Coming into the year, Bradish wasn’t exactly a heralded prospect, but after some success in the minors, the Orioles decided to give him a shot and to their credit, they’ve stuck with him all year even when he hasn’t been the most consistent.
We’ve seen games like his May 10 start against the Cardinals where he went seven innings giving up two runs with 11 strikeouts and we’ve seen plenty more starts where he’s gone four or five innings, given up three or four runs, and then pulled from the game.
Basically, for the majority of this year, Bradish has been decent with flashes of excellence here and there. So coming into a game against the Houston Astros, one of the best offenses in the league, it makes sense to have expected a not-so-great start from Bradish.
And then he goes out there and tosses 8.2 innings of shutout ball with 10 strikeouts and no walks. So what happened?
Changing around his pitch mix
Generally speaking this year, Bradish’s pitch mix has essentially been two pitches—his fastball and his slider. He throws his fastball around 48% of the time and his slider 29% tossing in his curveball just 12% of the time and peppering in a changeup and sinker occasionally.
The slider has been Bradish’s money pitch this year, it’s easily his best pitch and you can see why he goes to it a lot. Opposing hitters have a 33.8% whiff rate and 31.5% strikeout rate against the pitch, and even if they do hit it, they don’t do much with it, posting a .287 wOBA and .138 ISO against the pitch.
It’s a beautiful pitch:
And Bradish’s curveball has been rock solid so far this year too, despite him not throwing it a ton. It generally hasn’t been a huge swing-and-miss pitch, but it induces plenty of weak contact, as opposing hitters have just a .260 wOBA and an .040 ISO against the pitch.
Here’s the problem though—Bradish’s fastball is…not great. On the season so far, opposing hitters have a .416 wOBA and a .214 ISO against the pitch. Basically, when Bradish throws his fastball, it’s getting crushed—and he throws the pitch almost 50% of the time! Not great!
But Bradish completely changed things around against the Astros. Here’s a look at his final pitch plot:
One thing to notice—look how little red there is. That’s his four-seam fastball, it’s barely there at all.
That’s because Bradish completely changed up his pitch mix in this game, and in a big way. Remember how I said he generally throws his fastball about 48% of the time with his slider around 29% and his curveball around 12%?
Against the Astros, Bradish threw his slider 39% of the time, his curveball 24%, his fastball 18%, and his sinker 16% (the latter of which is a pretty big jump from throwing it just 2.3% of the time on the season).
Bradish started pitching backwards (in other words, leading with his breaking pitches rather than his fastball) and it worked! And on top of that, both Bradish’s slider and curveball had about an extra tick on velocity on them than they typically do, averaging 88.1 and 82.9 MPH respectively.
Also, another fun thing to note—coming into this game, Bradish had just three strikeouts all year using his curveball. In this game, he struck out three batters with the pitch. Maybe it’s a more effective swing-and-miss pitch than we thought?
So what does all of this mean?
That’s really the question—what does this start mean for Bradish? Is something changing or was this just dumb luck?
I’m hopeful this is indicative of what Bradish might do going forward into next year. The list of pitchers who have great secondary stuff but a trash fastball they throw 50% of the time is a mile long, and it’s frustrating how many guys will throw a garbage pitch a million times a game because they feel like “establishing their fastball” is essential to the game (it’s not).
It seems simple, but throwing your worst pitch 40 times a game is, you know, not a great idea. Now, obviously the point of a fastball can definitely be to set up the secondary pitches and I get that. But I love that Bradish has switch things up, taken his best pitch (his slider) and decided he’s going to throw that a bunch.
I also love that he’s decided to trust his curveball and sinker more—I could see a world where he stops using the four-seamer and uses his sinker more as a way to set up right-handed hitters for the slider away by throwing a sinker inside. It’s a common approach with sinker/slider guys and it can be really effective, but the jury is still out on Bradish’s sinker.
Either way, Bradish is clearly tinkering with things, and I’m extremely curious to see if this pitch mix change sticks and works going forward. I think it could, plenty of other pitchers have had success pitching backwards, and I’m hopeful Bradish will be one of them.
Ben Palmer has lived in Maryland his whole life and currently spends his days working as a health care journalist. He also previously wrote for and was a site expert for the FanSided blog The Baltimore Wire and currently works as managing editor at Pitcher List where he writes about fantasy baseball.