Taj Bradley Needs to Turn Chaos Into Success

The 2024 Bradley has been great, but there's another level to unlock.

Last week, Taj Bradley came out looking like the best pitcher in baseball. He struck out eight of the first nine Boston Red Sox and looked downright untouchable. After many flipped this game on to see if something special was brewing, they would witness one of the weirdest pitching lines of the year.

Bradley proceeded to give up four straight batted balls above 98 mph, highlighted (or lowlighted?) by Rafael Deversimpossible 3-run HR. The final line was 7 innings, 6 hits (2 HR), 5 ER, 10 strikeouts, and zero walks.

This line exudes Bradley’s career so far, that is, lots of strikeouts and lots of runs, but 2024 has been a step forward. He’s holding a 3.18 ERA with an exceptional 0.91 WHIP, 32.2% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate in four starts this year. Bradley is close to breaking through, as he’s made several changes from last year that are working, but he still needs a few more tweaks to truly reach the upside he is showing.


Elevating the Fastball Too Much?


Bradley has a very good fastball. It averages 96 mph with 17.9 inches of ride and grades out at 117 Stuff+ (13th-best among starters with 10 IP). Although he has an average release height and extension, Bradley generates an elite number of whiffs up in the zone.

Just four of his fastball whiffs have been in the zone despite a 29.3% whiff rate (88th percentile) overall. The fastball subsequently has a 32.1% chase rate (87th percentile), but Bradley throws many fastballs that never stand a chance.

Bradley’s fastball has been in the waste zone 14.8% of the time, the most out of any starter this year (min. 100 fastballs). To be fair, just about every fastball that’s been thrown in the zone has been torched. Hitters are swinging 78.5% on fastballs in the zone (88th percentile) and making contact 88.9% of the time (23rd percentile), resulting in a brutal .544 wOBA and .703 xwOBA. While this won’t stick, it’s understandable why Bradley is scared to go into the zone.

However, his fastball is really only located in one spot in the zone. He elevates 70.9% of his fastballs and rarely, if ever, throws a low fastball. It’s good that he’s elevating, but it becomes predictable as a primary offering, as hitters can sit at the top of the zone or get a ball. If Bradley wants to get more strikes (as the pitch only has a 49.3% zone rate), he can steal strikes at the bottom of the zone.

He’s thrown 13 such pitches this year, getting 6 swings and 7 called strikes. The batted balls have yielded some luck (.297 wOBA vs. .633 xwOBA), but the excitement lies in the hitters’ reaction to it. Most of the hitters seem unsuspecting of the velocity and location combination, which Bradley probably is, too, since the catcher called for a high fastball in every single clip.



By establishing a slightly more frequent low fastball, Bradley gives himself room at the top of the zone. It increases the fastball’s strike rate and prevents hitters from sitting on an upper-third-of-the-zone heater that can get mashed.


The New Splitter is Primed for Regression


One of the biggest changes Bradley made between last year and this year was swapping his changeup for a splitter. His old changeup was an elite whiff pitch but he struggled for called strikes. The new splitter compensates for the lack of called strikes, boasting a 17.9% called strike rate (90th percentile for splitters) and 70.2% strike rate overall (93rd percentile). The results are excellent, but I can’t help but worry that this pitch may become Bradley’s next issue this season.

When he throws strikes, they’re too frequently in the heart of the zone. Bradley’s splitter has the highest frequency of being in the heart of the zone of all splitters. But at 90 mph, he’s simply challenging hitters to do damage with the pitch, and they just aren’t. The splitter has a 17.9% swinging strike rate, .079 xAVG, and .180 xwOBA against.


This swing from Devers shows that it’s looking like a fastball out of the hand, only to completely tie him up. But such a high frequency of strikes over the middle of the plate will run him into trouble.

An article from Eli Ben-Porat at Baseball America measures deception by pitch type through the new bat speed metrics. Though splitters aren’t directly mentioned, I believe the findings about changeups can be connected due to their similar movement profile. Changeups saw the most “A” swings out of any pitch type, likely due to it looking like a fastball, so hitters swing like they’re getting a fastball. This almost exactly looks like what happened on the above Devers whiff.

If hitters are swinging hard and the splitter is in the heart of the zone, I believe the pitch will get hit soon. It doesn’t have outlier shape (but 90 mph is useful), so more looks at the pitch will lead to more contact.

Additionally, it’s Bradley’s main secondary in two-strike counts. Bradley should be going below the zone with two strikes, not in it. Only one pitcher has thrown splitters in the zone with two strikes, and it’s Paul Skenes, whose “splinker” sits at 94.6 mph (!!). Splitters are a feel pitch and Bradley is still working on that feel, but for a guy with command problems, he could just be affected by the Rays’ catcher strategy. As he’s still learning the pitch, it’s easier to try and throw it down the middle and let the movement do the work.


An Improved Cutter


Last year, Bradley’s cutter was his go-to secondary off the fastball, used both in and out of the zone. Bradley has added velocity and movement to the pitch, giving it a monster shape at the cost of strikes. The cutter has gained 2.5 inches of horizontal break, lost 2.5 inches of drop, and is thrown 2 mph harder.

That’s the 99th percentile horizontal movement for a cutter or the 70th percentile for a slider.



It just looks like a slider, and Bradley is using it as such. It only has a 40.7% zone rate and gets an above-average amount of chases. The cutter’s strength is its ability to actually miss bats, which it does at a strong 36.6% whiff rate.

Given those stats that indicate it’s a putaway pitch, he doesn’t use it as much as he should in two-strike counts vs. right-handed hitters. It should be flipped with the splitter, as he should be hunting more chases out of the zone in pitcher’s counts. At least he’s aware that he should not use it in two-strike counts vs. left-handed hitters, at just 6% usage.


A Show-Me Curveball… That Isn’t Showing Anything


Bradley has shelved the curveball, throwing it only 12% of the time overall (down 4% from 2023). It’s his only pitch that isn’t in the 90s, which makes it a crucial change of pace in at-bats. The first two times through the order, the curveball is only utilized 10% of the time. Bradley ups that to 20% for the third time through the order.

It’s used early in the count to try and get called strikes, but it’s struggling to do so. The curveball has a paltry 28.9% zone rate, which is in the 14th percentile. It doesn’t get whiffs either, which makes it a pitch that’s still a work in progress. It’s important to have a pitch at a different velocity than the rest, but its long-term importance is going to be dependent on whether the splitter takes a step back. He doesn’t need it to steal called strikes as he goes later into starts, but that moment may be quickly approaching.

Bradley has a plethora of exciting pitches, and we’re currently seeing how it all comes together for the 23-year-old. With a few adjustments to location and usage, Bradley could rise as a pitcher with a three-pitch mix as effective as they come.

Nate Schwartz

Nate is currently writing for the Going Deep team at Pitcher List. He is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals, devil magic, and Matt Carpenter salsa supporter. You can follow him on Twitter/X/whatever @_nateschwartz. Left-handed pitchers make him happy.

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