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Entries in Jonathan Broxton (2)

Tuesday
Nov292011

K.C. Adds Broxton

Not that long ago, Jonathan Broxton seemed destined to hit the free agent market and snag what could now be referred to as "Papelbon Money." Big, bad Broxton trailed just Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan in Wins Above Replacement among relievers from 2006 to 2009, delivering upper-90s cheddar and sinister upper-80s sliders from his near-300 pound frame. But after a down 2010 and a 2011 season shattered by bone spurs in his elbow requiring arthroscopic surgery in September, the 27-year-old Broxton will look to rebuild his value in Kansas City. The Royals signed Broxton to a one-year, $4 million deal (plus $1 million in possible incentives) to set up for Joakim Soria.

Broxton's rise -- and decline -- can be traced to his fastball. The lineman-sized righty averaged 96.7 mph with his fastball in 2008 (the first year of Pitch F/X data), ranking third among relief pitchers behind Joel Zumaya and Brandon League. The next year, he increased that velocity to 97.5 mph (placing behind just Zumaya). Hitters didn't stand a chance. Broxton used that fastball three-quarters of the time over that two year stretch, getting whiffs 25 percent of the time that opponents swung at the pitch (the average for relievers is around 17-18 percent). Batters hit a paltry .211 against Broxton's heat, and slugged .299. They couldn't clout the pitch even when he put it right down the middle:

Opponent in-play slugging percentage vs. Broxton's fastball, 2008-2009

Beginning in 2010, however, Broxton began to lose zip and effectiveness. He averaged 95.3 mph with his fastball, with his miss percentage falling to 23-24 percent. Opponents hit .270 against the pitch and slugged .356. And in 2011, Broxton's heat averaged 94 mph before he was shelved with an elbow injury in May after just 12.2 innings pitched. His miss percentage dipped again to 20 percent in a small sample, with opponents batting .286 and slugging .429. While he pounded the strike zone in years past, Broxton often missed to the arm side while pitching wounded:

Broxton's fastball location, 2011

It's hard to fault the Royals for taking a relatively low-cost gamble on Broxton. While his own agent, B.B. Abbott, says that Broxton's days of flirting with triple-digits are likely over, he could still be quite useful if he's 75-80% of the former Big, Bad Jon. If he proves to be healthy and deals, both parties win: Broxton sets himself up for a big payday next winter, and the Royals have a nice trade chip if their prospect cornucopia doesn't translate into AL Central contention in 2012.

Of course, history is littered with powers relievers who burned bright and faded just as fast (Zumaya waves hello, with his left arm), and just thinking about heaving an object at 95-100 mph thousands of times is enough to make my elbow hurt. Broxton may or may not be broken, but K.C. didn't bust its budget to find out.

Saturday
Mar262011

Can Jonathan Broxton Bounce Back?

Kevin Kennedy thinks Jonathan Broxton's pitching problems last season could be attributed to mental issues rather than anything physical.  Here's a comparison of his last two seasons:

Jonathan Broxton - 2009
PVelPVXPVZMiss%K%HR%BABIPwOBA
Fastball89697.51.1-11.724.3%31.5%1.8%.250.253
Slider25588.15.1-16.449.4%53.7%0.0%.278.128
Totals122595.22.0-12.831.4%38.0%1.5%.263.225

Jonathan Broxton - 2010
PVelPVXPVZMiss%K%HR%BABIPwOBA
Fastball80895.31.8-12.423.7%23.2%1.2%.356.321
Slider24687.05.2-17.232.4%37.0%2.8%.429.309
Totals109193.02.6-13.526.2%26.9%1.7%.373.322

Broxton's fastball lost more than two miles per hour of velocity in 2010, and his slider lost more than one mile per hour. Perhaps a mental component played a part, but when a pitcher loses a significant amount of velocity on his two main pitches in one season, it points more towards a physical problem more than anything else.

Broxton's slider had the worst dropoff between his two pitches, with opponents wOBA increasing .181 versus it last year. Opponents were also making much better contact on the pitch, and his k-rate dropped a bunch. A higher BABIP might suggest he was somewhat less lucky with his slider in 2010. However, in 2009 he yielded all of two fly balls on the pitch, and no HRs. But the following year, 25% of the balls in play off his slider were fly balls, two for round trippers. With opponents' averages increasing fairly equally on line drives and ground balls against Broxton's slider, I'm more inclined to believe they were squaring up the pitch better last season, rather than just getting lucky with hit ball location.

Broxton was also leaving his slider over the heart of the zone more last season, especially against RHB who accounted for much of the damage.

Jonathan Broxton's Slider vs. RHB
(Click to enlarge)

The small increase in sliders hitting the center of the plate accounted for a good deal of the overall damage down by RHB. They produced an .800 slugging percentage on sliders over the middle of the plate last season, compared to a .231 SLG% when they ended up hitting the outer 3.5 inches of the plate or further.

I wouldn't totally discount that Broxton's problems could partially be a product of mental lapses. But there is enough evidence from pitchFX data alone to suggest that his pitches didn't have the same bite as the year before. Keep an eye on his pitch velocity early in the season. If he's back to 2009 levels, it could be a sign that he's regained his form.