Kyle Bradish Is the Ace the Orioles Needed
It’s always a gamble when a team trades away established veteran talent for a prospect that may or may not pan out. That was a chance the Baltimore Orioles were willing to take in 2019 when they traded Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for a package of prospects that included current rotation staple, Kyle Bradish.
The trade has worked out beautifully for the Orioles.
In 2023 Bradish put together one of the best seasons by an Orioles starting pitcher since Mike Mussina in the 1990s. With eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on September 26, Bradish lowered his ERA to 2.86, the lowest by an Orioles pitcher with at least 150 innings in a season since Mussina’s 2.54 in 1992. He has posted an incredible 1.06 WHIP which is also the club’s best since Mussina’s 1995 season. On the season, Bradish’s 4.8 rWAR has been instrumental for an Orioles rotation and team that is headed to the postseason for the first time in seven years, while on the brink of clinching the American League East division title.
In the American League Cy Young Award conversation, Gerrit Cole appears to be the favorite while players like Luis Castillo, Pablo Lopez, Kevin Gausman, and multiple others are in the conversation. However, Bradish is also deserving of serious consideration to be a top-five finisher for the award because of how he has performed for his team this season.
Consider how Bradish ranks among AL pitchers in various categories in 2023:
- 2.86 ERA (3rd)
- 1.05 WHIP (3rd)
- 2.15 BAA (3rd)
- 6.5 BB% (6th)
- 24.5 K% (11th)
- 49.3 GB% (4th)
- 2.14 WPA (3rd)
In just his second big league season, Bradish has blossomed into an old-school type of ace pitcher, one built on efficiency and getting weak contact while limiting baserunners and wracking up a couple of strikeouts along the way and giving his team their best chance to win each and every game. Oddly enough, Bradish leads the pitching staff with 163 strikeouts.
The Orioles needed someone to step up to command the rotation in 2023. John Means was going to be out for the majority of the season, but he has since returned recently, veteran Kyle Gibson was going to provide some reliable stability and eat innings, and Deam Kramer is still finding his footing in his fourth year in the big leagues. Prospect Grayson Rodriguez has gone through his rookie growing pains while Tyler Wells has put up average numbers. Cole Irvin has split time between the rotation and bullpen while injuries sidelined him. Then, the team brought in Jack Flaherty from the St. Louis Cardinals to boost their rotation, a move that hasn’t exactly panned out.
Overall, the Orioles’ rotation has been average at best all season, full of guys that have pitched like middle rotation pieces. The title of the ace in 2023 was up for the taking and it was Bradish who grabbed hold of its reigns and took on the mantle. Again, he’s not the typical ace that will go and put up zeros start after start, but rather the one that will give you some length, and be competitive to the point that you can win the game. Rarely will he get blown up in a start, but will deliver quality starts of six innings and three runs or less more often than not.
Out of his 29 starts this season, Bradish has pitched less than five complete innings just five times. He has recorded 18 quality starts, including 17 of which had two runs or less allowed. He has 21 starts in which he tallied five or more strikeouts and 27 starts allowing fewer than three walks. It’s also worth mentioning that he has allowed just 14 home runs, the fewest among the active starters on the roster with at least 20 starts this season.
“He’s just becoming a complete pitcher,” manager Brandon Hyde told reporters.
After a tough first month with an ERA over 6.00, Bradish has only gotten better as the season has gone on, much like the Orioles. What has been so crucial and a mark of an ace is that Bradish has been great, despite not always getting the most run support. There have been eight starts in which the Orioles have scored two runs or less of support for Bradish. Even though he has gone 1-4 in those starts, he has a 1.45 ERA in 43 1/3 innings of work. He steps up big to give his team a chance to win and when he is given run support, the team can benefit from his performance.
He can command all of his pitches, utilizing his four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup against lefties while leaning on his sinker and slider against righties. It doesn’t matter which side of the plate they stand, Bradish has a plan of attack and has been tough on all hitters this season.
After years of rebuilding and perpetual losing, the 2023 Orioles are finally reaping the rewards of their labors. As they prepare to make a run in the postseason, they are going to need Bradish to elevate his game, etch his name in history, and continue to be the ace they’ve needed all season long.