I wanted to talk about how Clayton Kershaw really showed something on national TV tonight, going seven strong innings while not walking a batter for the first time in his career. Then I was going to laugh a bit at the Yankee defensive ineptitude in allowing the Dodgers to score three runs in the second while barely getting a ball out of the infield, and finally I was going to ask someone to tell me when the last time was that the Dodgers dropped down three bunts in a row. And I really wanted to laugh about Joe Morgan referring to OPS, but rhyming it with “stops”.
But let’s not pretend anyone cares about any of that right now, because obviously all of the focus is on the disastrous ninth inning from Jonathan Broxton. Because, things I’m not looking forward to tomorrow? Idiot fans and bloggers (yep, there’s those too) pointing to this as some sort of proof that Broxton doesn’t have the “guts” or “courage” or whatever you want to call it to close, as though A) he hasn’t been awesome 97% of the time, B) he’s not more awesome than 97% of the rest of closers in baseball and C) the blame is his alone.
Look, Broxton wasn’t good tonight. Four runs, four hits, two walks – I’m not pretending otherwise, even if I do think that only a steroid-fueled Eric Gagne can reasonably be expected to go entire seasons without blowing games. But there’s quite the laundry list of blame to go around here. Without totally absolving Broxton – who, again, was lousy – let’s run this down quickly.
Joe Torre. #1. In the 9th, Broxton was brought on to pitch for the 4th time in 5th days, two of which were for more than one inning, despite the Dodgers having a four run lead. As Eric Stephen will happily tell you, “the last 3 [games were] with win expectancies of 95.5%, 98.8%, and 98.8%” when he entered. The point being, those are the kinds of situations in which you bring on your lesser relievers, at least to start. Even if you don’t trust them – as Torre clearly doesn’t, other than Hong-Chih Kuo – if they run into trouble, then sure, bring on the big man. And no, I’m not suggesting that Broxton should only be brought into save situations (which he hasn’t seen since June 9) but you have to measure his usage a little more carefully, especially in all of these non-vital situations.
So when the lead was pushed to four on Rafael Furcal‘s 8th inning double, that’s when you pick up the phone to the bullpen and say, “you’ve pitched enough lately, Jonathan, especially yesterday. Sit down and we’ll let the other guys pick you up, and only bring you in if there’s a disaster.”
But no, Torre brings in the clearly overworked Broxton, and we’re supposed to act surprised that one of the best teams in baseball fouled off pitch after pitch, dropped in hit after hit, and patiently drew walks. Broxton eventually tossed 48 pitches, topping his previous career high of 44 set on July 3, 2006.
If there’s any takeaway from this, it’s this: Broxton has thrown 99 pitches since June 23rd. By comparison, the Dodger starting rotation since then has these counts: Kershaw 101 (tonight 6/27), Kuroda 110 (6/26), Padilla 111 (6/25), Haeger 102 (6/24), Ely 97 (6/23). Because apparently, Broxton is a starting pitcher now.
(update: As Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle points out, Broxton was warming up in the one game of that five game stretch in which he didn’t enter. I can’t verify that, nor do I know how long he was up, but if that’s accurate it’s an even bigger indictment of Torre’s usage.)
Joe Torre. #2. Kershaw has one of the most effective outings of his career, not walking a single man (for the first time ever) and throwing just 101 pitches through seven, and just ten in the 6th, yet he’s not even allowed to start the 8th despite rookie pinch-hitter Colin Curtis leading off. Ronald Belisario came in and just narrowly avoided getting himself into trouble, but even that was largely thanks to a fantastic 3-6 double play started by James Loney. We may not get to find this out now since it’s going to be all Broxton, all the time, but I’d love to know why Torre yanked him so quickly.
Joe Torre. #3. Okay, I may be reaching a little bit here because I’m so down on Torre, but he put Garret Anderson into the game as a “defensive replacement” for Manny in the 9th. The mere thought of that sentence is laughable. Now of course, there’s no way Torre could have known that the game would go on, meaning that Anderson would bat 2nd in the bottom of the 9th rather than Manny, but since Anderson’s just as terrible of a fielder, the move was totally pointless. If you really wanted to improve the defense, send Matt Kemp out to center and push Reed Johnson to left. Otherwise, don’t even bother, and still have Manny available to hit in the 9th.
James Loney. With men on first and third and one out in the 9th, and the Yankees trailing just 6-5, Curtis grounded to first base. At this point, Loney has two choices. He can either throw to second, attempting to start a 3-6-3 DP and end the game, or he can immediately throw home, possibly starting a 3-2-3 DP, but cutting off the tying run regardless.
Yet Loney chose to step on the bag first and then throw to the plate, despite having the speedy Curtis Granderson on third. The throw wasn’t perfect and was going to be late anyway, as you can see in the lead picture of this post, and the game was tied. Had Loney done either of the two correct options, instead of choosing option #3, this game might have ended far differently. Loney’s been playing fantastically lately, so let’s not get on him too much – but this was a poor choice, magnified by the situation.
And of course, Broxton deserves his share of blame for such a terrible outing, and you can’t entirely ignore that. I’m sure he won’t be putting blame anywhere else but on himself, which is nice. Just remember when you read all sorts of internet idiocy (and dear god, now that the Lakers are done I can just hear Bill Plaschke cracking his knuckles, scraping aside the Twinkie wrappers and cans of Jolt Cola and getting ready to tackle this), that Broxton’s a human being who was incorrectly used by his supposed Hall of Fame manager. Because it’s going to get ugly.
Anyway, after all that, George Sherrill comes in to allow a dinger to Robinson Cano and, well, that part doesn’t matter so much. We all knew that was going to happen, didn’t we? (At least this guy on my Twitter did.)
This is going to get lost in the aftermath, but the 9th inning implosion deprived Kershaw of his 8th win, through no fault of his own. Wins are stupid. (Commenter dodgerbobble notes that if the Dodgers had come back in the bottom of the 9th, Broxton – of all people – would have gotten the win. Wins are doubly stupid.)
Russell Martin went 0-4 is now hitting .241/.349/.327, which is awful, yet he’s been allowed to catch more innings than anyone in the NL (and 2nd most in MLB). As I said on Twitter as he was being tossed for arguing a strike 3, “I think Martin cracking his bat on the ground was the most solid contact he’s had in weeks.”
This is going to require an entire post devoted to it, and soon, but for now let’s note that he’s 162nd of 173 qualified big leaguers in SLG, and the names below him aren’t exactly pretty (Pedro Feliz, Jason Kendall, and Gordon Beckham).