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Are You For Real? Surprising Fantasy Baseball Pitcher Starts From Taj Bradley and Simeon Woods Richardson

Robert Gasser - Fantasy Baseball Prospects, Pitchers, Rookies, Call-Ups

Welcome back to "Are You For Real?", a weekly column where we take starting pitchers who had surprisingly good starts over the past week and put them under the microscope to determine whether they're legit or just smoke and mirrors.

We've got two young AL arms to look at this week. First, we'll break down Taj Bradley's one-run performance against Baltimore on Saturday. Then, we'll deep dive into Simeon Woods Richardson's strong outing against Pittsburgh.

Roster percentages are taken from Yahoo! and are accurate as of June 10.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Taj Bradley, Tampa Bay Rays - 36% Rostered

2024 Stats (prior to this start): 26.1 IP, 5.81 ERA, 5.30 FIP, 20.5% K-BB%

06/08 vs. BAL: 5 IP 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Bradley got revenge on the Orioles on Saturday, holding them to one run over five innings with seven strikeouts. This strong start comes on the heels of a nine-run outing for Bradley at the hands of these same Orioles. Revenge was bittersweet for Bradley, because despite his strong individual performance he was saddled with a tough-luck loss as his team put up zero runs in support. Bradley has shown us flashes at points this season and in previous seasons, but is he finally ready to be consistent, or will he flame out again?

Originally a fifth-round pick by the Rays back in 2018, Bradley became a hot pitching prospect thanks to some dominant performances at the lower levels of the minor leagues. Bradley struggled with his first taste in the majors last season, posting a 5.59 ERA in 104.2 innings, but an 11.09 K/9 and 3.82 SIERA suggested that Bradley was capable of producing better outcomes. Bradley works with a four-pitch mix, consisting of a four-seam fastball, splitter, cutter, and curveball.

The fastball was working well for Bradley in this start. It was his most used pitch at 54%, and Bradley earned 10 of his 18 whiffs with his fastball. Bradley’s velocity was up in this game, with the young righty averaging 97 mph with his heater, compared to 96.3 mph on the year. This was an encouraging sign for Bradley, considering how hard his fastball has been hit this season. Opponents are hitting .321 against Bradley’s fastball, along with a .679 SLG and .445 wOBA.

With numbers that ugly, one might guess that Bradley has been horribly unlucky with his fastball this season and could be due for regression. Well, that hypothetical person would be wrong, because the expected stats on Bradley’s fastball are somehow even worse. Bradley’s fastball has a .361 xBA, .781 xSLG, and .493 xwOBA. Batters are clobbering the pitch for a 93.4 mph average exit velocity and a 23-degree average launch angle. With such poor overall numbers, could it be that Bradley was doing something different with his heater in this one? Let’s have a look at his season-long fastball heatmap versus the heatmap from this start.

Season (pre-6/8/24)

6/8/24

They're not drastically different, as we see Bradley continuing to attack high with the fastball but living in the zone quite a bit as well.

One area of change for Bradley with his fastball is in his sequencing. He was throwing the pitch more often when in even counts and ahead in the count, especially against left-handed hitters. The Orioles used a lefty-heavy lineup against Bradley, and he was able to navigate it by relying on his heater. Here’s a look at Bradley’s pitch sequencing from this start versus the rest of the season. Lefties haven’t given Bradley extra trouble at the major league level, but perhaps this new pitch sequencing could have him more effectively wielding what has been a poor-performing fastball. Pre-6/8/24 is on the top, and 6/8/24 is on the bottom.

If Bradley can figure out his fastball he could really take off, and that’s because his secondary stuff has been electric this season. His best secondary pitch is probably his splitter, which has a .162 AVG, .270 SLG, and .230 wOBA against. Even better, the pitch has a .135 xBA, .240 xSLG, and .216 xwOBA against. A 90.3 mph offering, Bradley’s splitter is a hard split-change with solid horizontal movement. Bradley also has a strong 14.3% swinging strike rate with the pitch this season, making it a bona fide strikeout threat.

It's not just the splitter for Bradley, who is also getting excellent results with his curveball and cutter. Batters are hitting sub-.200 against both pitches, and each pitch has a double-digit swinging strike rate. His cutter is especially impressive with a 17.1% swinging strike rate. With an arsenal like this, it’s easy to see how Bradley has put up a 28.4% strikeout rate through his young career.

The stuff looks legit for Bradley, especially if he can iron out the kinks with his fastball and produce better results more consistently. He still carries some pretty big flaws in terms of batted ball quality and distribution. Opponents are clobbering Bradley for a 91.8 mph average exit velocity, 116.4 mph max exit velocity, and a 17.3% barrel rate. For context, Aaron Judge leads all qualified hitters with a 15.9% barrel rate this season, and no qualified pitchers have a barrel rate higher than 12.9%.

Maybe this means regression is coming for Bradley, but it could also mean that he is far too hittable. Allowing hard contact isn’t the end of the world, and we’ve seen pitchers such as Framber Valdez succeed despite allowing extreme hard contact. Valdez can get away with it thanks to his groundball tendencies, but Bradley has just a 30.9% groundball rate and a 2.3 HR/9 this season.

Bradley’s biggest problem? Living in the zone. He has a 57.2% zone rate on his fastball this season. He’s trying to blow his 97 mph heat past hitters, and that isn’t a long-term winning strategy in the majors. For Bradley, he’d benefit from keeping the fastball up and peppering a healthy amount of secondary pitches, which is his best stuff. There’s talent here, but Bradley looks like he still needs to figure a few things out.

Verdict:

It’s easy to see the upside with Bradley. He’s got three strong secondary pitches and his 3.23 SIERA suggests that he could perform much better going forward. His fastball has also been clobbered this season and Bradley is surrendering tons of hard contact and home runs. Bradley has strong upside thanks to his strikeout potential, but he also carries the risk of blowing up at any moment. He’s better in points leagues where you aren’t protecting ratios, and in Roto and categories leagues he’s best deployed as a streamer against easy matchups. It’s just too hard to trust him against tough lineups at this point.

 

Simeon Woods Richardson, Minnesota Twins - 14% Rostered

2024 Stats (prior to this start): 44.1 IP, 3.05 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 13.8% K-BB%

06/08 @ PIT: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

Woods Richardson had one of his best starts all season on Saturday, holding the Pirates to just one run over 6.1 innings in a tough-luck loss. The 23-year-old right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.84 following this start, and with Woods Richardson available in so many leagues he could make for a sneaky waiver wire add in the immediate future. Is there anything here with Woods Richardson, or are fantasy managers right in their skepticism?

Originally a second-round pick by the Mets back in 2018, Woods Richardson was a highly regarded prospect a few years ago, but has since seen his star fade a bit as he progressed through the minor leagues. Woods Richardson was ranked as high as the 61st best prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2020, but he only fell on lists after failing to add velocity and struggling when initially promoted in the minors. He’s also been traded twice, first from the Mets to Toronto for Marcus Stroman, then from Toronto to Minnesota for Jose Berrios. Woods Richardson works with a four-pitch mix consisting of a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and curveball.

It's mainly been about the fastball and slider for Woods Richardson, and that was the case in this start against Pittsburgh as well. He threw his fastball 40% of the time in this start and earned five of his 17 whiffs with the pitch. A 93.1 mph offering normally, Woods Richardson had elevated fastball velocity in this outing at 94 mph. His velocity has been trending upward over his last three starts, and 94 mph is the highest that Woods Richardson has averaged this season. With average spin and movement, Woods Richardson’s fastball is about as middling as they get.

Opponents are hitting .264 with a .306 SLG and .297 wOBA off Woods Richardson’s fastball this season, but he’s also allowed a .476 xSLG and a .345 xwOBA against. Woods Richardson has a 91.8 mph average exit velocity and an 18-degree average launch angle against with his fastball but has allowed zero home runs with the pitch thus far. It’s likely that Woods Richardson will experience home run regression with this pitch at some point, and fantasy managers should be wary of his 7.6% HR/FB ratio and 4.09 xFIP.

So, the fastball is decidedly average. What about the slider? It’s Woods Richardson’s most-used breaking ball at 30.6%, and he used it 32% of the time against Pittsburgh. An 86.6 mph offering, Woods Richardson’s slider is characterized by its strong vertical movement. Here’s a particularly nasty example from this start.

Woods Richardson made Michael A. Taylor look foolish with that one, and it was one of six whiffs Woods Richardson earned with his slider in this outing. Unfortunately, the whiffs haven’t always been there for Woods Richardson this season. He has just a 9.8% swinging strike rate with his slider on the year, which helps explain his underwhelming 7.46 K/9.

Woods Richardson’s slider may not be a strikeout machine, but he has induced weak contact with the pitch this season. Batters are hitting just .173 against the pitch along with a .200 SLG and .169 wOBA. Unlike his fastball, the expected stats aren’t concerning as Woods Richardson has a .202 xBA, .253 xSLG, and .205 xwOBA with his slider this season. How does he do it? He has an 83.1 mph average exit velocity against and a 47.4% groundball rate with his slider. He may not get the strikeouts that other pitchers can get, but Woods Richardson is still excelling at inducing weak contact.

Woods Richardson rounds out his arsenal with a changeup and a curveball, but neither pitch is performing particularly well. Batters are hitting just .200 off Woods Richardson’s curveball, but he has a .327 xBA, .500 SLG, .581 xSLG, and .385 xwOBA against the pitch. His changeup hasn’t fared much better, with Woods Richardson allowing a .303 AVG, .697 SLG, and .448 wOBA off his changeup this season. The reality is that Woods Richardson’s stuff isn’t all that special. He has a swinging strike rate above 10% with just one of his pitches (curveball) and a chase rate above 30% with just one of his pitches (slider). For Woods Richardson he isn’t going to blow things past major league hitters with any consistency. Instead, he will thrive off his command.

Woods Richardson has an impressive 1.95 BB/9 this season, and he’s found the most success in the minor leagues when he’s been able to limit walks. By not issuing free passes Woods Richardson can get by with average to below average stuff. He isn’t going to be a league winner or Cy Young candidate, but Woods Richardson could hang around a major league rotation by throwing strikes and limiting walks. Unfortunately, regression is likely coming for Woods Richardson, who will have a hard time maintaining a 2.84 ERA when his .265 BABIP, 80% LOB rate, and 7.6% HR/FB ratio creep toward the league average. His SIERA is 3.98 and his xFIP is 4.09, and that’s likely where his ERA will land over a full season.

Verdict:

Woods Richardson has impressive control, but the bottom line is that his stuff is underwhelming and regression is likely coming. His fastball is average in terms of movement, spin, and velocity, and he doesn’t get whiffs with his secondary stuff consistently. His fantasy value is likely reduced to that of a streamer, though Woods Richardson isn’t a bad option in a pinch. He lacks the upside of someone like Taj Bradley, but he also lacks the same blowup potential that a pitcher like Bradley has. His next start comes Friday versus Oakland, and he’s a fine start in that game.



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