Or will he always be a Bridesmaid? Enjoy this comprehensive look at Jonah Bride and weigh in with your thoughts... -Nico
The A's are known to experiment on the margins and welcome players with flashes of brilliance mixed with misery. In previous years, their names were Hendricks, Semien and Canha. I wanted to take the time to examine several players "on the borderline" of sinking or swimming. While the jury is still out on their future careers, there is enough data to discuss hypothetical futures. After Kirby Snead and Vimael Machin, I'm turning the focus to Jonah Bride.
Bride entered the realm of discussion after his remarkable 2021 campaign in Midland. In 2013, Bride's high school in Oklahoma had an undefeated record and won their state championship. He was named a HS All-American and went to Junior College in Kansas before he transferred to the University of South Carolina. After hitting around .280 his first two seasons, he hit .300 senior year and started every game. This was enough for Bride to be drafted by the A's in the 23rd round of the 2018 draft, where he gained a $1,500 signing bonus. A round usually marked by obscurity, the Phillies drafted top prospect Logan O'Hoppe just six picks ahead of Bride.
His numbers at Stockton in 2019 were not world shattering- .279, with 97 K's and 44 BB's. It was still enough for the A's to promote Bride to Midland for the final week of the season. The 2020 season shattered the progress and developments of hundreds of players, including Bride. According to this profile about Bride he spent the summer as a substitute teacher and trained with other players. He started the next season hot with 7 hits in the first four games, including four in one contest. It wasn't until July when Bride posted three straight games without a hit, leading the league in multiple categories.
Bride's manager Bobby Crosby summed up Bride approach in the profile linked above. "He has an innate ability to find the barrel. He can hit the ball all over the yard and when he gets his pitch and he’s on time, he’s as good of a hitter as anybody,". He finished the season slashing .265/.407/.424 with 57 K's and 57 BB's. The latter part of that, his K:BB, placed him in the upper echelon of plate discipline in the minors. The A's sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he learned how to play catcher to liven up his resume as a unique utility player. Although he did not play catcher in the big leagues in 2022, he was given a major league opportunity in Oakland.
So how did he do? Here were his final season stats:
...with a -0.1 fWAR across 58 games. Bride debuted with the A's in June, one of the worst months in Oakland history, but came out swinging with 2 H in his second career game. Questions abounded with his defense and while he made an awkward error in his first series, he also turned plays like this:
Bride was 9-41 (.219) going into a game vs. KC where he collided with RF Chad Pinder after falling while in the shift, as Pinder was charging to make a catch. He would not return to major league action for a full month. Here he is in August, making contact with a pitch way up and in for an RBI:
This level of play continued until a two week mega-slump at the end of September, where he recorded 1 hit in his last 14 games. But he did get a milestone first home run, his only one to date, against Gerrit Cole:
To anyone quickly observing the A's dismal offensive performances, Bride did not stand out. He did not qualify either, but his 10.2 BB% led the A's among players with 100+ PA's. His K% was third, behind only Kemp and Andrus, both in the upper class of major league regulars in avoiding K's. While it is no guarantee these trends would continue through a full season, it is obvious Bride has an impressive knowledge of the strike zone and making contact. He had a 7% Whiff% off fastballs and had a .238 expected batting average (xba) off the pitch. More notable for Bride were his plate discipline stats and for context I have included Luis Arraez's stats below Bride's, since Arraez is the king of discipline.
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Arraez, it should be noted, whiffed 5% of the time on fastballs. While Bride is certainly inferior to Arraez in this realm, they both constitute the upper tier of batters at controlling the strike zone, shown by the almost identical chase%. Among players with 100+ PA's in baseball, Bride finished 26th in out of zone contact% and 42nd in whiff%, just below Tommy La Stella and Joey Wendle. Sadly, A's hitters Dermis Garcia, Shea Langeliers and Stephen Piscotty were the top 3 in whiff%. The Fangraphs "steamer", a flawed projection tool of some repute, predicts Bride to slash .244/.336/.372 with a 112 wRC+.
If there is a flaw in Bride's hitting it is quality of contact, just like Arraez. "Best Speed" takes the top 50% of hardest hits for a player and averages them into one number. Titans like Judge, Schwarber, Alvarez and Guerrero Jr lead the league in best speed, while Tony Kemp, David Fletcher and Nick Allen are at the bottom. Bride's 96.8 best speed and 87.9 average EV are pedestrian at best. Plenty of major league hitters have survived at those levels, however.
Only 37 qualified hitters in baseball managed to walk 10% of the time or more. Three of them (Jesse Winker, MJ Melendez, Rowdy Tellez) were not very good but the rest all managed to put up 2 win seasons or better. This emphasizes that a player with Bride's skill set has a place on many major league rosters, including the A's in flux. Even just as a bench infielder used to make pinch hitting appearances in close games, I believe Bride has a floor of utility and a fascinating ceiling.
What do you think? Please discuss memories on Jonah Bride's season and theories/projections on his potential future in Oakland.