As reported by countless outlets in the last 36 hours, Archie Bradley is said by the D-backs to be under consideration to grab the pitching staff’s final spot — in the bullpen (Piecoro first). Bradley-as-reliever may be a good baseball decision, but it does not help put the team in a position to win, at least as I understand what winning means. I have little doubt that pitching in the majors in April would be good for Bradley, and that it would help the team win in April. I do have doubts.
I don’t pick fights with Buddhists. The “middle path” is a great way to stay safe, to be happy, and to avoid disaster. The “middle path” is about living well. Baseball is not. Baseball is about survival.
In competition, there are few occasions where it makes sense to go half speed. Sure, baseball may look that way sometimes, but in a long season, it’s not the smart play to go all out all the time. “Less than full speed” sometimes on the field is about the upper limit, about going only so fast and so high as your engines will allow you to do without stalling — the baseball form of “less than full speed” is still as hard as reality allows it to be. It is full speed. And when a full-on sprint is required for even a glimmer of a favorable outcome, players give it — you never know if the third baseman will triple clutch and running hard will force a throwing error.
Now, think of the runner on first base when the batter hits a lazy fly ball between the left and center fielders, and how he advances almost three quarters of the way to the second base bag. A missed catch almost never happens in that situation, and yet it costs the runner nothing to advance that far — he can get back to first safely, and couldn’t have tagged up anyway. If the outfielder does lose the ball, “three quarters of the way” doesn’t help him take second – he could have done that with a simple walking lead. Instead, three quarters of the way is the only right answer because the alternatives give you a 0% chance of an advantage, even if the chances of taking third are almost as small.
When it costs you nothing to try and there’s a reward if you succeed — you try. If it costs you something to try and there’s no or almost no reward if you succeed, you don’t. If you don’t know which of those situations you’re in? Pick. One. Landing in the middle is the only truly bad decision. The patron saint of competition is not Buddha, but Machiavelli.
…one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.
What was said there of navigating a political landscape can also be said of injuries a team wishes to inflict on the standings. Winning partly gets you nowhere in terms of “winning,” especially if it makes it more difficult to win in the future. Baseball is a business, and I believe and completely understand that a 78-win team makes the potential of seeing a win so much more real to a potential ticket-buyer than a 68-win team (for which we might ask ourselves whether a win matters as a first and most obvious question, instead of whether or not they will win that night). It would not surprise me if, in terms of selling July or August tickets (or next year’s season tickets), that 68 to 78 win gap makes a bigger difference than the gap between 78 and 88. It would also not surprise me if this reported consideration of Bradley in the bullpen was about the former gap — because it is not about the latter, either in this season or future seasons overall.
Bradley Ready Enough That Relief Role Would Work
With 6 runs (4 earned) in 16.1 innings, Bradley has been one of the best pitchers in camp. More importantly, it seems like he has had quicker plate appearances and shallower counts (data a little spotty). Bradley got on the map by being nearly unhittable, and became a top prospect by showing in early 2013 that command was potentially compatible with that. On some level, we’ve been waiting for Bradley to show that that wasn’t a fluke (or to improve) for a season in a half (on the other level, he was not exactly healthy last year). No, 16.1 innings can’t tell us that his command has improved. But if Bradley has been making a specific effort to stay in the zone this spring (regardless of how hittable it might make him), at least it might show us that he won’t necessarily fail in that endeavor. Considering the struggles of Trevor Cahill, Allen Webster and others to do that, that’s not nothing. Could Bradley prove more in the minors? Absolutely. But it’s not a necessity that he be asked to.
Pitchers don’t last forever, and using those bullets in the minors for development begins to be counter productive when the potential returns on development start to diminish — especially since there can be a way for those development-bullets to help the major league team. As Nick Piecoro wrote last night, that’s the Earl Weaver school of thought about breaking in a rookie in long relief. Whether it would work with most pitchers doesn’t really matter; logistically, doing that would be impossible.
The real point is that it might work particularly well with Bradley, for at least two important reasons. One is that Bradley is a good bet to be good enough to actually be helpful in the pen right now; there’s no worry about wasting bullets in the minors if the bullets wouldn’t be good bullets. As for the other… the last time we really talked about the Bradley-as-reliever possibility on this site was back in August 2013 in a proto-Pool Shot conversation:
I just want to introduce this idea: there’s no rule that says that he needs to get promoted a single time. If we’re talking an Earl Weaver approach, and breaking him in as a reliever, which is what I’d suggest in the circumstances, you’d make it the plan from the get-go to let Bradley get his feet wet in a controlled relief environment, and then leave open the option of having him start games at Reno to open the 2014 season. I do believe in this method, and I think we can get back to that. But I know one thing that weâve talked about in the past is how the nature of a pitcherâs remaining development can make this kind of plan make sense or not. I mean, whether it’s a guy working on a third pitch, something you wouldn’t want him to do in front of major league hitters who know it’s coming, or someone working on control, where promoting aggressively would be less of an impact on the development game plan.
As Jeff noted at the time, Bradley arguably did need to sort out a third pitch back then. But I renew the point: at least for me, it does not compute that fringy (as opposed to horrendous) command cannot be improved anywhere near as well in the majors as it can in the minors. Bad things happen there, too, especially if there is Reno.
On The Pool Shot last weekend and in his piece yesterday, Jeff explored a brilliant point: while I was focused on figuring out who the best lefty matchups option might be because that’s how bullpens normally go, the last spot in the bullpen probably couldn’t (and can’t) be for a fifth short reliever (something the organization later confirmed). As Jeff illustrated, the length of pitcher starts has been and will be a concern for the D-backs, who need to arm themselves with an extra multi-inning option beyond Randall Delgado and Daniel Hudson. Bradley could probably do a reasonably good job at that; ZiPS projected him with an ERA- of 114, 14% worse than league average, well in line with Delgado (117 ERA-) and Hudson (113 ERA-). And there’s a pretty good chance (if just because that’s how the ERA statistic works) that he’d do better in relief.
Bradley in April Bullpen: The Wrong Answer
Having Bradley break camp in the MLB bullpen would nevertheless be a mistake. Jeff put it exactly right:
There are several acceptable options for Archie Bradley: MiLB, MLB rotation, MiLB then MLB rotation. MLB bullpen is the only wrong answer.
Jeff Wiser (@OutfieldGrass24) March 31, 2015
Neither of us is under the illusion that this is definitely a thing; the situation is not only about service time, but this could easily be whitewashing on the part of the organization (especially since the man with the brush is a lawyer), part of an organizational priority to make sure they can’t be accused of manipulating the clock (not long ago). If they were publicly considering Bradley for the bullpen despite the service time effect, then surely the MLBPA or Bradley’s agent can’t raise his not making the rotation in a grievance, right? Don’t forget, Bradley’s agent did a little saber-rattling about eleven months ago. It still doesn’t make sense to bring Bradley to Chase Field as a reliever, at least not to start the season.
The “Weaver method” doesn’t make nearly as much sense when the pitcher in question is not better than your alternatives for that bullpen spot — it’s not about sacrificing the present for the future, but about a no-lose scenario in which you don’t have to choose. This Bradley possibility is not no-lose. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that two extra weeks of Bradley this season is better for the MLB team than an extra year of a Bradley, regardless of whether the alternative for those extra two weeks is Andrew Chafin (good!) or Vidal Nuno (link not found). Sometimes, the bump in value at a relief spot is worth the lost service time, if the season in which the team finds itself is potentially a winning one (especially if that + not much bullpen depth). Most of the recent teams to have done a top-pitching-prospect-as-temporary-reliever thing have done so in winning seasons. All due respect to Tony La Russa (and I do have extraordinary respect for him), but Bradley is not going to be saving D-backs wins in the World Series this year a la 2006 Adam Wainwright. In the Piecoro piece quoting La Russa, there is also a passing reference to other teams’ history in having a top pitching prospect so well that he doesn’t get moved to the rotation. Daniel Bard aside (I have to stop saying that), we need give this no consideration in hashing out what the correct decision is right now. Making a mediocreÂ decision because you’re afraid the alternative would lead to you making a poor decision later is an especially poor form of decision-making.
Yes, this is about service time, an issue that recently moved the Players Association to speak out on Kris Bryant‘s behalf. The common cry on Twitter has seemed to be that the Cubs weren’t putting their best team on the field, as some kind of self-proving contention. I don’t understand that at all; teams put interests in future assets ahead of on-the-field quality all the time at the trade deadline, and no one seems to have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the fact that keeping Bryant down actually may be against the CBA even if it’s not against the letter of it, as SweetSpot Network-er and labor lawyer Jason Wojciechowski wrote. But we don’t have that issue here with Bradley. The argument that Bradley could use a couple weeks’ experience trying out the whole middle or long relief thing before a callup for that role is at least as valid as the argument that Bradley should be tried in relief to get ready for an MLB starting role. You can’t have the latter be valid without the former being arguably valid.
It’s really that simple, and calling up Bradley to start the year is really that indefensible. If it’s so important to the organization, they should approach Bradley about a sign-and-promote, or promote him with a framework for an extension already in place. Chances are, it won’t matter a whole lot either way — just like a runner moving up most of the way to second on a lazy fly ball to left center probably won’t matter either way. Pitchers get hurt, especially power pitchers, and Bradley is far from “can’t miss.” That is no justification for getting a decision this wrong. Random chance can be any team’s friend, and yet the only way to maximize a team’s chances of winning is to treat all of these things like they matter just the way players do on the field. Perfect is the enemy of good, but what’s so great about good? Excellence in decision-making is the only defensible goal for decision-making. That’s winning baseball.
Maybe this Bradley tango will be a minor talking-point blip when this front office regime’s tenure is all said and done. But Bradley is not the first example, here. It’s hard to read the team’s offseason moves and come away with a lukewarm feel for a lukewarm vision for the team, one that sees a better-than-terrible 2015 finish as a goal coequal to a good finish in 2017. A team approach to the front office is a great idea, but in the “team of rivals” sense where the best ideas can be chosen — not in the committee sense in which most decisions are the product of consensus and compromise. That’s what this looks like thus far, just over six months in. We’ll see if this trend continues shortly, when we find out if Nick Ahmed will be put on the MLB roster for an extremely limited bench role (or any limited bench role). Which, by the way, would violate a different and maybe even more firmly held Earl Weaver tenet.
It’s too much to ask for any major league team to try relentlessly to contend, like a shark always in motion — in MLB, there are not as many wins to be earned as there are fish in the sea, and that shark would starve. But consider that particular brand of ruthlessness advised by Machiavelli, the ruthlessness required to let things go when doing something about it would only compromise your position in the future. It’s not too much to ask for a major league team to go about winning like a bear, another fearsome animal that contends with cycles no more unforgiving than the demands of baseball. Hibernation is a particularly ruthless strategy when it comes to survival. In major league baseball, ruthlessness is required.
Powered by: Web Designers
- Best part of Peralta’s 108 mph fliner over the fence, IMHO: that he got that much leverage despite scooping it out… https://t.co/ivBrl76adF, Apr 08
- RT @OutfieldGrass24: If you're bored of watching Patrick Corbin get dudes out, you can check out my latest for @TheAthleticAZ. https://t.co/k1DymgY7zO, Apr 04
- Of course, they may have overtaken the league lead for outs on the bases just now, also... But in 2017, Arizona ha… https://t.co/38MBrr2D4b, Apr 04
- Prior to the games today, there had only been 5 steals of 3rd this season (and no CS) in the National League. The… https://t.co/gVVL84vPQ5, Apr 04
- RT @OutfieldGrass24: Patrick Corbin has a WPA of .318 and it's only the fifth inning., Apr 04
Powered by: Web Designers
- Every once in a while you get a beer that's just a little off... Usually happens to me at airports., 21 mins ago
- If Pollock doesn’t sign with a team that wears red uniforms I’m going to be really disappointed. Working theory: Se… https://t.co/zHn9DqzEiD, 2 hours ago
- The work here by @Britt_Ghiroli is splendid https://t.co/c8tSq0vw3T, 2 hours ago
- RT @TheAthleticAZ: Plenty of #Dbacks fans gave it some time - and they still don't like the idea. The "why" from @ZHBuchanan https://t.co/9oDlvue3fV, 11 hours ago
- RT @CardsNation247: Episode 30 of the Cardinals Nation 24/7 Podcast, Hosts @ToR_Ron75 & @JMRedwine welcome @buffa82 of @KSDKSports &… https://t.co/7dbIEzcahN, 6 hours ago