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As the 2013 season has developed a few things have become increasingly obvious about the Cincinnati Reds’ 21 million dollar setup man Jonathan Broxton. One is that he should never pitch at PNC Park, as he hasn’t had a clean outing there all year. In his first outing at PNC, he completely blew up, allowing 6 runs in just two-thirds of an inning. In his second outing there, he barely escaped the 8th as he allowed 2 hits but was able to wiggle out of the jam. In his third and final outing there, he blew yet another Mat Latos victory, serving up a meatball to Garret Jones that ended up as one of the furthest hit balls in PNC park history. In total, he’s allowed 8 runs in just 2.2 innings there. Oh, and he has a 6.75 ERA there over the past 3 seasons, not even including 2013. Maybe he just wants out of Pittsburgh like everyone else there.
The second, and slightly more disturbing thing that’s been revealed about Broxton, is that he really isn’t a good pitcher anymore. Of course, as I outlined in my National League Central closers article (at the time, Broxton was set to become the Reds closer) it was already clear that Broxton was done, but that’s been outlined heavily so far this year. I ranked him last of the National League Central closers, giving him a D rating while saying of him that “a fastball pitcher whose fastball has run out of juice is never a good combination, which is what Broxton appears to be at this point in his career.” If you’re interested in the rest of the article, it can be found here. Of course, I also predicted a return to form for John Axford, so maybe my crystal ball skills still need some refining.
So, what has Broxton’s major problem been this year? For starters, his fastball is at an all time low. Here is a chart of Broxton’s average fastball velocity throughout his career compared to performance. These numbers are courtesy of FanGraphs:
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It’s more than a little disconcerting that Broxton’s fastest pitch of 2013 can’t even match his average pitch speed from 2009, which happened to be, arguably, his best season as a major league pitcher. Things began to go downhill in 2010, as he lost some zip on his fastball, and even more so in 2011. He rediscovered his fastball a little bit in 2012, and thus had some improved (if not a bit luck-induced) results. His fastball has completely run out of gas, and it’s showing in his performance. It is interesting to note that Broxton’s FIP and his fastball velocity correlate nearly perfectly. Early in his career, as his fastball speed crept up to it’s maximum in 2009, his FIP crept down to it’s lowest mark, also in 2009. It’s incredibly apparent that Broxton needs a good fastball in order to succeed. If he can’t blow his heater by hitters, he gets hit. Hard. This paints a pretty bad picture for things to come for Broxton. Sure, a pitcher’s velocity will naturally decrease over time. However, a precipitous drop of nearly 4 mph on Broxton’s fastball from his age 23 season to his age 28 season is not normal. He should be enjoying his prime right now. Instead, he’s pretty much fallen off of a cliff.
The next problem with Broxton almost surely stems from the first. His strikeout rate has fallen off of a cliff with the rest of him. Broxton is only striking out 5.79 batters per nine innings. That is nearly 2.5x less than he was striking out in 2009, when he struck out 13.50 batters per nine innings. 2012 wasn’t much better, as he only K’d 6.98 batters per 9 innings. He seems to have completely lost the ability to strike out hitters, which is crucial in high leverage situations. It seems that, even when Broxton does manage to go an inning without giving up run(s), there are still lots of runners on base. He’s Francisco Cordero-ish in the fact that most of those baserunners are hits, as his 2.70 BB/9 is respectable.
The worst thing about Broxton’s performance this year is that there is absolutely no indication that it is going to get any better. He’s sporting a .250 BABIP on the season, which is well below the league average (and his career average of .310.) This indicates that he’s actually lucky to be pitching the way he is now. Over time, more balls will begin to find holes against Broxton, and if his strikeout rate is still as low as it is now, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to pitch out of the jams he creates. It’s entirely possible that we could see his WHIP raise all the way to what it was in Kansas City, 1.40, which is terrible for a relief pitcher. Broxton doesn’t have the stuff to pitch out of his self-inflicted jams anymore. His FIP and xFIP numbers really aren’t too encouraging, as they actually also predict some regression from Broxton as they are 4.74 and 4.84 respectively, compared to his 4.63 ERA.
In summary, Broxton is a problem because he is still trying to pitch like a fireballer, even though his fastball has ran out of juice, while his secondary stuff isn’t good enough to keep hitters guessing on his mediocre fastball. His cutter (mistakenly marked as a slider most of the time by FanGraphs) barely cuts, and his slider is flat. Broxton has singlehandedly cost Mat Latos 3 wins, and has an ERA of 12.71 on days when he pitches. We’ll have to wait and see whether Dusty will stick with Broxton in the setup role or go to someone like Sean Marshall (upon his return), Sam LeCure, or even JJ Hoover for the 8th. I just hope if he does decide to transplant Broxton from the 8th inning, he does it sooner rather than later. Unless Broxton miraculously adds 4 mph to his heater and relearns some fastball location, there is no reason to say that he’s going to get better. In fact, he could very well get worse. Unless he goes on an insane scoreless streak, his numbers for the season are going to end up ugly. In 58 innings last year, he allowed 16 earned runs overall on 2 home runs. In just 23.1 innings this year, he’s already allowed 12 earned runs on 3 home runs. There were already 21 million reasons why Broxton’s contract was a bad one, and this is just the 21,000,001st, especially if it limits the Reds’ ability to sign Shin Soo Choo, Mat Latos, or Homer Bailey long term. Oh well, at least he’s not Brandon League.