In the wake of the recent Bronson Arroyo signing, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers made some rather peculiar comments, telling Fox Sports’ Jack Magruder that top prospect Archie Bradley could still contend for a major league rotation spot this spring.
“We need to win games.” Towers reported “If he’s ready coming out of the spring and we’re a better ballclub with Archie being in it, he’s going to be there.”
The only problem: the Diamondbacks don’t have a single open spot in their rotation, or any current starter for whom Bradley would constitute a legitimate upgrade.
As it stands right now, the Diamondbacks rotation will consist of Patrick Corbin, Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, and Brandon McCarthy. Arroyo just received a 23 million dollar contract, so he obviously has a guaranteed spot. Considering they were Arizona’s two best starters last season, Corbin and Miley are also entrenched in the rotation, leaving only Cahill and McCarthy as candidates for eviction.
Both of these pitchers are coming off one the worst seasons of their respective careers. McCarthy, who just signed to a two year 18 million dollar deal before the 2013 season, went 5-11 with a 4.53 ERA while dealing with shoulder issues. Cahill, meanwhile, had a terrible first half that culminated in a trip to the disabled list, but managed to salvage his season with a strong return from injury, resulting in an ERA of 3.99 for the season. His peripherals, however, weren’t nearly as good, and both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference both register him as having contributed less than one WAR for the year.
But could Bradley, at this point in his development, outperform either of these pitchers. On the surface, it seems that a pitcher who so thoroughly dominated Double-A at the age of 20, posting a 1.97 ERA there, would have a chance, but the other numbers tell a different story, the story of a pitcher who can dominate the minors by the sheer ferocity of his stuff but as of right now, lacks the polish to succeed in the big leagues.
Bradley has the raw ability; his fastball consistently hits the 98 on the gun with incredible sink, his 12-6 curve is a plus pitch, and his change up should be at least major league average rather soon. His command, though, is not quite there yet and while his ERA was spectacular, his peripherals in Double-A were relatively unremarkable: 4.3 BB/9, 8.7 SO/9. That results in a 3.33 FIP, an excellent number no doubt, but not comparable with his starling ERA.
McCarthy, on the other hand, had FIP of 3.75, only against major league hitters instead of Double-A ones. Cahill’s FIP was a less impressive 4.26, but he has consistently outperformed his peripherals over the course of his career; Bradley does not have the same body of work to stand on. And just look at what each of this pitchers accomplished in seasons prior. McCarthy had an ERA under 3.33 in both 2012 and 2011, and while Cahill’s 18 win season is already pretty dated, he still managed to go 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA last year.
Because predicting major league production is so difficult, lets look at the sabemetric projections for each player. The most favorable projection for Bradley is FANs which has him posting a 3.64 ERA, but both ZIPs and Oliver only forecast a 4.29. The difference appears to be largely in their estimation of Bradley’s command, as Oliver sees Bradley posting a BB/9 of 5.21, nearly a walk and a half more than FANs’ projection of 3.83. McCarthy on the other hand is projected by all the calculators to post an ERA between 3.95 and 4.05, and while Oliver, ZIPS, and Steamer all see an ERA of roughly 4.05 for Cahill, FANs, the same engine that gave the 3.64 number for Bradley, projects a 3.75 ERA for Cahill.Bradley offers slightly more upside, but not quite enough to offset the loss of reliability that both McCarthy and Cahill provide (when healthy).
One thing Bradley does have going for him is his extreme ground ball tendencies, as he gets excellent sink on his fasbtall, resulting in HR/9s of less than 0.5 at every step of the minors. This will be paramount for success in the dry air and home run hitting atmosphere of Chase Field, but the sinkerballing Cahill actually has the upper hand here as he has the tenth best GB% in the majors since he broke in 2009.
The Diamondbacks hav five dependable starters heading into spring training, something that few teams can boast and that will give them an advantage in the NL West and wild card race. There’s no reason to ruin that advantage by throwing in an unproven 21 year old into the mix. Bradley needs some time to work on his command and change up in Triple-A. No rotation stays healthy all season, so an injury will eventually open up a spot for him, but until then, Towers needs to keep his propensity for wanton personnel moves in check.