Rays Righthander Taj Bradley Has Chance To Lead Minors In ERA Two Years In A Row

Image credit: Taj Bradley (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

Rays righthander Taj Bradley has a chance to lead the minors in ERA for two seasons in a row.

Bradley led the minors with a 1.83 ERA last year. This year, he’s been even better, posting a 1.59 ERA so far in 17 starts (16 at Double-A Montgomery and one at Triple-A Durham). That currently puts Bradley third in the minors. The Dodgers’ Gavin Stone leads the minors with a 1.50 ERA.

So with two months to go, Bradley still has a realistic shot of being the minors’ back-to-back ERA champ. 

To post a sub-2.00 ERA for two seasons combined requires exceptional consistency. Bradley allowed six runs (five earned) in his fourth start of the season on April 27. That is the only time this year he’s allowed more than two runs in a start.

Bradley has allowed two or more runs only nine times in 40 games over the past two seasons. Over that same span, he has 18 starts where he allowed no runs.

In the majors, back-to-back ERA crowns do happen, although they are quite rare. Clayton Kershaw led the majors in ERA for four straight seasons from 2011-2014. Pedro Martinez had the majors’ best ERA in 1999 and 2000 and 2002 and 2003. Greg Maddux led for three consecutive seasons from 1993-1995. Before that, the last pitcher to defend his ERA crown was Sandy Koufax, who led the majors in 1965 and 1966.

In the minor leagues, it’s unheard of. We don’t know of an instance of it happening. Overall MiLB leaderboards are significantly less definitive than those of MLB, but at Baseball America, we’ve compiled MiLB overall leaderboards going back to 1980. In those 41 seasons, no one has ever led the minors in ERA twice, much less in back-to-back seasons.

That may lead to the understandable follow-up question: how significant is winning an MiLB ERA title to future MLB success?

And the answer is the record is incredibly mixed. Justin Verlander had the best ERA of the past 41 seasons when he won the ERA crown in 2006 with a 1.29 ERA. Josh Beckett, Javier Vasquez, Madison Bumgarner, Blake Snell and Cristian Javier have all led the minors in ERA. So have Kevin Pucetas, Jon Connolly and David Parkinson.

In the minors, between promotions and the much larger number of teams and players, the chances of leading the minors twice in any major statistical category is actually rarer than the majors. 

We tracked who led each year in wins, ERA, strikeouts, opponent batting average and saves for pitchers and batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, home runs, stolen bases and total bases for hitters. From 1980-2021, we found seven examples of repeat winners:

Ron Kittle (slugging percentage in 1981-1982), Eric Anthony (home runs in 1988-1989), Eric Karros (hits in 1989-1990), Billy Hamilton (stolen bases in 2011-2012), Chris Carter (total bases in 2008-2009), Pedro Beato (saves in 2017-2018) and Nick Neugebauer (opponent batting average in 1999-2000).


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