Kyle Bradish opened the 2023 season as the No. 4 starter in the Orioles’ five-man rotation. He ended it viewed as the No. 4 starter in the entire American League.
In his second major league season, Bradish placed fourth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award, which annually recognizes the circuit’s top pitcher. New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, the AL’s only qualified starter who allowed a lower batting average than Bradish, received all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to win his first career Cy Young Award, the BBWAA announced Wednesday, with San Diego Padres left-hander Blake Snell winning in the National League.
Bradish, a 27-year-old right-hander, is the first Orioles starter to appear on multiple BBWAA ballots since Hall of Famer Mike Mussina finished second in 1999. With a single third-place vote in 2007, Erik Bedard tied for fifth, while closer Zack Britton also came in fourth in 2016. An Oriole hasn’t won the award since Steve Stone in 1980.
The voting results validated Bradish’s status as not only the Orioles’ top starter, but also one of the best in the AL. With a 2.83 ERA, Bradish became Baltimore’s first qualified starter to post a mark under 3.00 since Mussina in 1992. That figure also ranked third in the AL behind Cole and Minnesota Twins right-hander Sonny Gray, who finished second in voting as former Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, now with the Toronto Blue Jays, placed third. Bradish’s 17 outings of at least six innings with fewer than three runs allowed trailed only Cole.
Bradish appeared on 19 ballots with six third-place votes, eight for fourth place and five for fifth. He finished well behind Gausman for third place in voting, preventing the Orioles from having three finalists for BBWAA awards; Baltimore infielder Gunnar Henderson was named the AL Rookie of the Year on Monday, with Brandon Hyde winning AL Manager of the Year a day later. The final BBWAA honor, the Most Valuable Player in each league, will be announced Thursday.
One of four minor league right-handers the Orioles acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for starter Dylan Bundy in December 2019, Bradish made his major league debut for Baltimore in May 2022. In 10 starts before going on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, Bradish had a 7.38 ERA. But the recovery period allowed him to mentally and physically reset. After his return, he posted a 3.28 ERA over 13 starts, a stretch during which he also began pitching from the other side of the rubber and added a sinker to his repertoire.
The success of those changes, as well as the improved command he showcased, carried into 2023. Starting Baltimore’s fourth game of the season, he exited seven batters in when a comebacker struck his right foot, prompting a brief stint on the injured list. He returned with six scoreless innings, but his next nine outings were mixed, leaving him with a 4.25 ERA entering mid-June. From then on, he had a 2.18 ERA in 19 starts; his 2.34 mark after the All-Star break narrowly topped Cole for the best second-half ERA of any major league starter.
The performance made Bradish the obvious choice to be the Orioles’ Game 1 starter in their AL Division Series matchup with the Texas Rangers. Although the Rangers won the game, 3-2, en route to sweeping Baltimore and eventually winning the World Series, Bradish impressed in his 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts, the first Orioles pitcher to reach that tally in a postseason game since Mussina in 1997.
Orioles closer Félix Bautista, who at points in the season was viewed as a dark-horse Cy Young candidate, received three fifth-place votes as the only reliever to land on multiple ballots. Before undergoing season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction that will also force him to miss 2024, Bautista had a 1.48 ERA and 33 saves with a 46.4% strikeout rate that was the sixth highest for any qualified reliever in major league history.
Replacing Bautista at the back of the bullpen and fortifying the rotation are among the Orioles’ offseason priorities with Gray and Snell, now free agents, among the starting upgrades available. But for now, Bradish is positioned to become Baltimore’s youngest opening day starter since Bundy in 2018, which would be a worthy honor for a pitcher who established himself among the AL’s best.