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Taj Bradley and the Rays pitching “lab” part 2

Kyle Snyder discusses the impressive rookie

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

St. Petersburg, FL. Recently we talked to Taj Bradley about his stuff, and how he is visualizing the transition from his breaking ball from the minors to the majors. Rays fans have been able to witness a couple of major league starts from Bradley; his stuff and command is something very impressive for his age.

Even the coaching staff is more than impressed with what they have seen. This is what Kyle Snyder about Bradley’s success at such a young age.

“Extremely composed, he believes in himself the body language certainly suggests a lot of that. To come up here and to fit in this environment for the first time at his age, and to perform the way that he has in four starts has been extremely impressive to all of us.”

As we discussed previously, every pitch from Taj’s arsenal is an above-average pitch. His most used pitch is the fastball, and is very effective, why is it effective? Kyle Snyder explains why Taj’s fastball is so special.

“First of all, I mean, it’ll reach 98-99 miles an hour, but it’ll reach a great vertical break of 22 inches, and he locates it where the pitch belongs based on those characteristics.”

The fastball is an amazing pitch, and in the Rays’ starting rotation is key to have a fastball that leads the way. However breaking balls, and off-speed are also crucial, and Bradley has plenty of them. But, the main question is when Taj is going to create a consistent strikeout pitch. So far, he has been able to gather weak contact with the off-speed and breaking balls, however, he is lacking that big strikeout pitch. Kyle Snyder explains what is the actual state of the curveball, and change-up.

“So the curveball usage has actually started to increase a little bit given the fact that the pitch itself is improving. The change-up is a pitch that is utilized to lefties. It has shown flashes as being a well above-average pitch. I would expect the distribution of that pitch to increase as well. The fastball and the cutter right now are probably going to be predominantly the pitches that he uses, but I would expect the other two pitches, his feel for those pitches, the growth of those pitches to continue as well.”

It might sound a little crazy, but a reasonable comparison for Taj Bradley is 2021 Shane McClanahan. Both were in their rookie campaign with similar arsenals. Why do I say it? Because the best pitching coach in the league, Kyle Snyder made that comparison. I asked him what to expect from Taj in the next month, and here is what he said.

“A lot of the same of what we’ve seen, you know, and I think you’re going to be able to see a guy that’s on the right-hand side, very similar to that of Shane McClanahan, where you have four well-above-average pitches that you can throw for strikes, or to get strikes, and you can maintain your unpredictability by using those pitches across the board, and utilize the same pitches out of the zone to get to two strikes. I see Taj continuing to grow and grow at this level and develop at this level. I look forward to watching him.”

It totally makes sense, if we take a closer look both have similar stuff in their rookie season. Taj throws 42.7% fastball, 31.1% cutter, 14.6% curveball, and 11.6% change-up. In 2021 Shane threw 40.9% fastball, 34.7% slider, 16.3% curveball, and 8% change-up. Both fastballs are well above-average and can reach 99 MPH. The slider and cutter both were the strikeout pitch coming to the majors. Moreover, the slider/cutter was the only breaking ball that they can command consistently. For both Shane and Taj, the curveball was a work in progress, however, sometimes they used it to steal strikes. Finally, the change-up worked against opposite-handed batters.

The question that everyone is wondering is if there is a missing piece in Taj’s game. Some experience and development are key to his success in the near future. But, the reality is that the coaching staff feels pleased with what they have seen, especially Kyle Snyder.

“There isn’t a missing piece. At this point it’s about consistency, it’s about shaping pitches and building the consistency there, but in terms of adding another pitcher to the menu or anything like that, that’s not going to be necessary. He has a full complement right now, three above-average breaking pitches, and arguably the best fastball on the team. It’s just a matter of the consistency of his shape in terms of shaping those pitches, taking them in the game, and the consistency of the execution.”

We already know that he has the stuff and command to be an all-time Rays pitcher, however, Taj is the only one responsible for making the previous statement a reality.