Farewell to the Misunderstood Jonathan Broxton


Not that anyone ever really expected otherwise, but the Dodgers officially declared Jonathan Broxton out for the season earlier this week, after four months of attempting to rehab a right elbow injury left him without enough time to make it back on the mound before the season ends. Broxton, the longest-tenured Dodger of the current crew by about six weeks over Hong-Chih Kuo, is a free agent after the season, and while he could conceivably return, his Dodger career is almost certainly over.

For many fans, that will be welcome news. Remember, Broxton is the guy who lacked enough heart, testicles, intestines, earlobes, eyelashes, kidneys, toes, ribs, and whatever other organs give you the ability to strike out major league hitters in the late innings. He’s the guy who ran screaming from Matt Stairs and the rest of the Phillies in the playoffs like he was a doomed actress in a B-level horror movie. He’s the wimp without the mental acuity to force the fielders behind him to catch the damn ball. He’s the pitcher whose frame was so large that his 2010 collapse could have only meant he didn’t pay enough attention to his conditioning, since he was obviously a 145-pound beanpole when he arrived in 2005. He’s the disappointment who blew nearly 30% of his career save chances, and I don’t want to hear your “logic” about how “he wasn’t a closer for most of his first three-plus years and was in position to only receive blown saves, not successful ones.” Jonathan Broxton: heartless, gutless, failure.

This is, of course, stupid.

If this is the end for Broxton, he’s going to walk away as one of the most successful and dominating relievers in Dodger history. Among Dodgers with as many career innings as he has, his 11.55 K/9 mark is by far the best, more than a full strikeout ahead of Eric Gagne‘s chemically-aided 10.38. His K/BB of 3.09 is fifth best, ahead of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Don Sutton, and he’s also on the top ten as far as the fewest hits per nine allowed.

From his debut on July 29, 2005 through June 26, 2010, Broxton was consistently excellent. In 349.2 innings over 341 games, he struck out a whopping 468 batters, allowing opponents to hit just .209/.285/.300 against him. For those afraid he’d wilt in the ninth inning, he actually got better once he was promoted to the closer’s job after Takashi Saito‘s injury in July of 2008; from then until June 26, 2010, he struck out 204 in 138 innings and held the opposition to a microscopic line of .185/.258/.242. For the better part of two years, Broxton was either the absolute best closer in baseball or something very close to it.

That’s not to say there weren’t trying times, of course. The go-ahead homer he served up to Matt Stairs in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS was brutal, though the pain of that moment often obscures the fact that he had retired 15 of the previous 16 hitters he faced in that postseason and that he bounced back to finish the inning and the next one without any damage. Faced with the Phillies once again in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS, he again was unable to hold the lead, though he had allowed just one earned run in 5.2 previous innings that postseason, and it was his only blown save of a postseason that had every single closer other than Mariano Rivera blow at least one. Tough losses to be sure; evidence of anything other than an excellent pitcher being something less than godly and perfect, no. Clearly, neither loss affected him too much, as he started 2010 better than ever, allowing just three earned runs with a 48/5 K/BB in the first 33 games of the year.

And then Joe Torre happened. It’s been over a year since Torre forced Broxton to throw 48 pitches in a loss to the Yankees while using him for the fourth time in five days, and it’s mind-blowing to me that there’s even the slightest doubt in anyone’s mind that the collapse of Broxton’s entire career was caused in that week.

Broxton, 7/29/05 – 6/26/10: .585 OPS against, 3.57 K/BB
Broxton, 6/27/10 – 5/3/11: .892 OPS against, 1.09 K/BB, 4 months on DL

Sure, Broxton’s got a busted body part, but it’s not his guts: it’s his arm, shredded by the usual Torre overuse. Or does the obvious downward spiral on his velocity chart not make it clear?

Even in the heat of the moment, we could see what Torre had done:

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 onlybe 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.

Of course, that’s not how many saw it. “Gutless Broxton again,” you’d hear constantly. “Can’t do it on the big stage against the best teams,” went the refrain. Nevermind, of course, that Broxton had easily shut down the same Yankees for 1.1 innings the night before. Or that his previous outings had all come against some of the better teams in both leagues, including the Angels three times, the Red Sox, the Cardinals twice, the Braves twice, and in Colorado twice, and he hadn’t allowed an earned run in over a month. Broxton got the next four games off after this stretch, but he was never the same again – and thanks to Torre, he might never make it back. (Though, as friend of the blog Jay Jaffe reminded me, Broxton did himself no favors by concealing the extent of his elbow woes – and claiming this May that he “did not plan on being more forthcoming” in the future.)

I’m not sure where Broxton will end up – smart money is somewhere a lot closer to his wife and child in Georgia, if not for the Braves specifically – but it almost certainly won’t be back in Los Angeles. Here’s to the man who dominated for years despite all of his supposedly missing body parts.

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  1. [...] Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness: Was going to write something like this about Jonathan Broxton, but Mike Petriello basically summmed up every point I would have made. Same tone too. [...]

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  4. [...] think I said all I needed to about Broxton back in September, when it was announced that he wouldn’t be making a return in 2011 and I bid a likely adieu [...]

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