Bobby Bradley, A Three True Outcomes Case Study

The season’s first half led to some nice surprise rookie performances. Yermín Mercedes took the league by storm in April, hitting for a 1.113 OPS and 206 wRC+. Adolis García rode an incredible stretch in May, during which he slashed .338/.376/.700, to his first All-Star appearance as a reserve outfielder. Late to the party is Cleveland rookie Bobby Bradley. Called up on June 5, he has thrived in his second opportunity in the big leagues, having slugged 10 home runs in 119 plate appearances. He cruised into the break hitting .240/.336/.577 with a wRC+ of 143, tied for second with Jake Fraley among all rookies with at least 100 plate appearances:

Rookie Hitting Leaderboard
Patrick Wisdom CHC 150 1.3 12 .270 .323 .617
Bobby Bradley CLE 143 0.6 10 .240 .336 .577
Jake Fraley SEA 143 1.1 7 .237 .409 .439
Adolis García TEX 127 2.2 22 .270 .312 .527
LaMonte Wade Jr. SFG 125 0.6 7 .248 .341 .479
Chas McCormick HOU 124 1.1 10 .250 .315 .514
Ramón Urías BAL 124 1.0 4 .284 .354 .451
Jonathan India CIN 123 1.8 6 .275 .397 .407
Tyler Stephenson CIN 122 1.2 5 .282 .381 .426
Eric Haase DET 121 1.0 13 .244 .292 .538
Minimum 100 plate appearances.

The door opened for Bradley after the departure of Carlos Santana in free agency and the more recent trade of Jake Bauers. Bradley wasn’t exactly raking in Triple-A (his slash line was .196/.266/.485 at the time of his call-up) but he must have impressed Cleveland’s coaches and front office enough during his time at the alternate site and spring training to earn the opportunity.

It’s not Bradley’s first foray into the big leagues. Although he peaked on FanGraphs’ prospect rankings in 2018 (fourth in the Cleveland organization), his performance took a small step backwards that year and kept him in Double-A for most of the season. He rebounded in 2019, though, and that’s when he punched his ticket to the big leagues. Things didn’t go so well. The fear for a hitter with Bradley’s profile is that the high volume of whiffs against minor league pitching (he went down on strikes 153 times in 2019 in Triple-A) spins out of control at the next level; for Bradley it did exactly that. It was an extremely small sample, but one in which he managed to rack up 20 strikeouts in just 49 plate appearances, good for a 40.8 K%.

Bradley’s struggles with breaking pitches (specifically sliders) caused enough concern that his cup of coffee only lasted three weeks. According to Statcast, Bradley saw 52 sliders in 2019 and hit for a .046 wOBA on such pitches. His swinging strike rate on sliders was 27%; he didn’t get a single hit off of a slider that season. After a wait of almost two years, he’s demonstrated throughout his second stint in the majors that he can now hit a big league slider:

Bobby Bradley vs. Sliders
Season # Sliders SwStr% wOBA H HR
2019 52 26.9 .046 0 0
2021 104 20.2 .418 6 4
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Four of Bradley’s 10 homers on the season have come against the pitch. His swinging strike rate is down a bit at around 20%, but he’s clearly seeing the pitch better. This proves out in how he’s reacting to sliders out of the zone. Bradley chased sliders out of the zone at a rate of 45% in 2019, with a SwStr% of 32.5%. He’s nearly cut that SwStr% in half this season, bringing it down to 17.7%.

It’s not just sliders though. His ability to see the ball has generally improved. His O-Swing% has dropped from 35.3% to 26.5%. This has resulted in a significant improvement in his walk rate (8.2% to 10.9%) and strikeout rate (40.8% to 30.3%). Sustaining those improvements is absolutely vital to Bradley’s survival at the big league level. Prior to being called up in 2019, he had gained a lot of momentum as a prospect by mashing home runs in the minor leagues. His ascent through Cleveland’s system since being drafted in 2014 included stops at every minor league affiliate and he didn’t miss a beat. Bradley clubbed home runs with remarkable consistency, hitting home runs at a rate between 4% and 6% during each stop prior to Triple-A. Once he hit Columbus, Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, his rate jumped north of 7%, but all or part of the increase can be explained by Columbus’ HR park factor of 1.105. But he also started to strike out more frequently. Prior to reaching Triple-A, Bradley struck out in 26.4% of his at-bats. That’s not great, but it’s certainly palatable given his ability to hit for power. At Triple-A, however, his K% has shot up to 33.5%; this is not a good trend.

At his current rates, Bradley ranks 18th on the three true outcomes (TTO) leaderboard among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances:

Major League TTO Leaderboard, 2021
Player Team TTO% PA HR BB% K% wRC+
Joey Gallo TEX 58.1% 351 24 20.5% 30.8% 153
Mike Zunino TBR 57.6% 212 19 9.4% 39.2% 123
Taylor Trammell SEA 56.2% 178 8 9.6% 42.1% 74
Yasmani Grandal CHW 56.1% 246 14 24.4% 26.0% 134
Patrick Wisdom CHC 54.9% 124 12 6.5% 38.7% 150
Brett Phillips TBR 53.9% 187 4 12.8% 39.0% 86
Mitch Garver MIN 53.3% 135 8 14.1% 33.3% 127
Miguel Sanó MIN 52.3% 258 15 10.1% 36.4% 92
Jake Fraley SEA 52.3% 149 7 22.1% 25.5% 143
Mike Trout LAA 52.1% 146 8 18.5% 28.1% 192
Dom Nuñez COL 52.1% 175 5 12.6% 36.6% 53
Brandon Belt SFG 51.7% 201 11 13.9% 32.3% 140
Jake Rogers DET 51.3% 121 6 9.1% 37.2% 112
Brad Miller PHI 50.9% 177 9 11.9% 33.9% 116
Ryan Jeffers MIN 50.7% 132 6 12.1% 34.1% 86
Darin Ruf SFG 50.4% 143 9 16.8% 27.3% 158
Brandon Lowe TBR 50.1% 335 21 11.6% 32.2% 116
Bobby Bradley CLE 49.6% 119 10 10.9% 30.3% 143
Christian Yelich MIL 49.5% 238 5 19.7% 27.7% 116
Shohei Ohtani LAA 49.3% 343 33 11.1% 28.6% 180
Minimum 100 plate appearances.

The 49.6 TTO% for Bradley in 2021 is eerily similar to his 51.0 TTO% from his 49 plate appearances in ‘19. He averaged a 45.6 TTO% in the minors. Bradley will always have a high TTO%; his profile is defined by it. His ability to hit for big power has never been in doubt; Bradley’s raw power as measured by maximum exit velocity has ranked him in the 91st percentile or above over his two brief stints in the majors. He’s going to hit home runs. But his adjustment to sliders has made a huge difference in the distribution of homers, walks, and strikeouts within his TTO profile. If Bradley can keep punishing balls like this hanging slider from Danny Duffy, he will continue to thrive:

But the TTO tightrope walk is difficult to pull off. Pitchers, even without sticky substances, are incredibly effective at exposing hitters’ weaknesses. Bradley has a 30.3 K% now, but what will that number be at the end of the season? His 690 plate appearances in Triple-A suggest that his true K% may be a bit higher than what he’s accomplished so far this season. As we’ve seen with his peer rookie standouts Mercedes and García, rookies tend to hit some adversity as pitchers learn more about a hitter’s tendencies.

As good as Bradley has been, however, there’s still potential that he could improve on his torrid start. He has had a knack for hitting the ball in the air, yet he currently has a groundball rate of 51.5%, more than 5% higher than in any previous season as a professional. Consequently, his typical rate of hitting balls in the air has suffered. His 30.9 FB% would put him in the 18th percentile among qualifying hitters — not what you would expect from a hitter with a fly ball pedigree. It would be a bit of a surprise if his FB% didn’t trend upwards a few notches closer to how he hit as a minor leaguer.

Bobby Bradley has been a great surprise in the last month and a half. He slid from as high as fourth on Cleveland’s prospect list in 2018 all the way down to 37th on this year’s. His quality of contact has been great. His 22% barrel rate leads all rookies and is third among all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances (behind just Mike Zunino and Shohei Ohtani). As a TTO hitter with big power, the key for Bradley staying at the big league level hinges on his ability to keep his strikeout rate in check. For him, maintaining a strikeout rate just north of 30 is a healthy place to be. Throw in a walk rate over 10 and 30 home runs in a full season’s worth of plate appearances and Cleveland has itself an above-average first baseman under several years of team control. The problem is that these hitters are much better in theory than they are in practice; they’re outliers. Since 2017, there have only been five such seasons:

Major League Seasons with > 30 HR, > 10 BB%, > 30 K% Since 2017
Name Season Team PA HR BB% K% wRC+
Joey Gallo 2017 TEX 532 41 14.1% 36.8% 119
Aaron Judge 2017 NYY 678 52 18.7% 30.7% 174
Kyle Schwarber 2017 CHC 486 30 12.1% 30.9% 103
Joey Gallo 2018 TEX 577 40 12.8% 35.9% 108
Miguel Sanó 2019 MIN 439 34 12.5% 36.2% 137

As much as the game is trending towards TTO style of play, there are still few players who can succeed when the strikeout portion takes too large of a share. Bradley could be the next name to join that short list, but it’s not going to come easily.

Chet is a contributor for FanGraphs. Prior to FanGraphs, he wrote for Purple Row. When not writing about baseball, he is a data scientist and outdoor sport enthusiast. He can be found on Twitter at @cgutwein.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

The subtext of this article’s infographics is that we need to talk a little about Patrick Wisdom.

1 year ago
Reply to  mrdog61

“a little” is right. As in, all the words needed are that after a hot 15 game stretch, he’s struck out greater than 40% of the time and his WRC+ is 80 over his last 28 games.