Has Jonathan Broxton Returned To Form?

Many writers scoffed when Ned Yost and the Kansas City Royals handed the closer’s role to right-hander Jonathan Broxton this spring. After all, Broxton is returning from an elbow injury that rendered him ineffective (5.63 FIP) and held him to only 14 appearances last season, while fellow right-hander Greg Holland burst onto the scene in 2011 with an 11.10 K/9 strikeout rate and a minuscule 2.21 FIP.

It only seemed natural that Greg Holland be given the job in the spring. He is arguably the best reliever in the Royals’ bullpen and was utterly dominating throughout all of 2011. The decision to hand the reins to Broxton was largely branded as the epitome of pandering to the baseball cliche of the “closer mentality.” Broxton possessed it because he had accumulated 84 saves over the course of his seven-year career. Holland, on the other hand, only has four career saves, so question marks remain as to whether he has closer mentality.

On Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels, however, Broxton entered the game in a save situation and struck out three consecutive hitters: Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales. While not three of the most dangerous hitters in the league, Broxton alleviated some of the fears concerning his effectiveness that the majority of Royals fans harbored heading into the season.

But, does this mean the Jonathan Broxton has returned?

The early results indicate that Broxton has turned a corner and should produce results closer to the strong 2006-2009 seasons, rather than the lackluster 2010-2011 seasons. The swinging strikes had been on the decline in each of the past two years, but he generated six swings-and-misses on Sunday on only fourteen pitches. While that 42.86% SwStr% is certainly not sustainable throughout the course of the season, it serves as a positive harbinger for subsequent performances as the season wears on.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect to Broxton’s inning of work on Sunday was the rebound in velocity. His once overpowering fastball had decreased in velocity over the past couple of seasons, which ultimately played a significant role in his lessened effectiveness, but pitch f/x registered his average fastball velocity back at 2008-2009 levels.

Year MPH
2008 96.3
2009 97.8
2010 95.3
2011 94.1
Yesterday 97.02

Not only did Broxton throw his fastball significantly harder on Sunday than he has in previous years, but his slider was also ridiculous. The average velocity of his slider against the Los Angeles Angels was 90.04 MPH. The career high average for Broxton’s slider was in 2009, when he averaged 88.6 MPH over the course of the season. More importantly, he threw his slider five times and threw five strikes — three of them of the swinging variety.

One outing is far too little to officially declare Jonathan Broxton healthy and “back” to his elite level of performance. It could simply be a blip on the radar screen. However, his stellar spring performance (1.13 ERA and 12.4 K/9), his increased velocity on both his fastball and slider, and his clean bill of health all suggest that the right-hander is poised for a huge comeback season on the mound for the Royals.

After the season ends, the one-year, $4M contract that Broxton signed could be one of the biggest bargains of the offseason.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

29 Responses to “Has Jonathan Broxton Returned To Form?”

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  1. Franco says:

    Do you know what his average velocity for his first inning of work last year and the year before?

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  2. Cory says:

    Sounds like he is on a straight path for another elbow surgery. But I do wish him the best.

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  3. Brox says:

    He was nasty yesterday….the batters had no chance.

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  4. Preston says:

    I don’t believe in a closer mentality, but would have made Broxton the closer. Some teams still do believe in the closer mentality, and even if they don’t, may fans and media types, that GM’s have to pander to do. Broxton was picked up as a rehab project, with their closer role open, why not give him the role that can pump up his value the most. Holland is young and cost controlled, he can have just as much impact in a fireman role, and there is no reason or desire to trade him if you’re out of contention at the deadline, so no need to try and inflate his trade value.

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  5. Ivdown says:

    After the last crappy year and a half I knew he’d go somewhere and be his old self again. The only good thing is that the Dodgers didn’t have to sign him to some 5 year 65 million dollar deal because he stayed good.

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  6. Cozar says:

    As an Angels fan, I’ll feel a lot better about those 3 strike outs if Broxton has a great year, so I guess I’m rooting for him.

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  7. swyck says:

    “Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales. While not three of the most dangerous hitters in the league…”

    Makes it sound like he was facing a couple of slap hitters at the bottom of the lineup.

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    • KCExile says:

      My thoughts exactly. Sure it wasn’t the murder’s row the poor Red Sox relievers had to face late in the game but damn, it’s not Chris Getz either.

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    • AA says:

      Exactly. Wells is a sad story, but all of those guys can still crush a fastball.

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  8. geo says:

    It’s funny how saber-types slam managers for putting their best relievers in the closer role. After all, why shouldn’t the best guy come into the game in the highest leverage situations, instead of getting a clean ninth inning with a three run lead? Then the Royals turn around and, you know, DON’T put their best reliever into the closer role, preferring to use him where he would presumably be more effective, and the saber-types are slamming them for it. Managers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t; there’s just no pleasing some people.

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    • Nolan Fontana says:

      Everyone likes to eat at a Applebees, but sometimes you just end up at a Dennys. Story of your life.

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    • Wobatus says:

      I thought about this as well, although I don’t know if a swipe at saber types in general is necessary. Having Holland be the guy for high-leverage situations earlier is likely more effective. This may be good results over process, since for all we know Yost is making broxton the closer because he thinks he’s the best, or since he’s done it before, etc.

      Further, it may be that Broxton will be more valuable as a trade chip if he is still closing mid-season, assuming any teams are still inclined to think “proven closer.” And conceivably there is something to guys just pitching better where they are ciomfortable. Doubt it but may keep them happy (and witness Thornton’s blow-up as a closer last spring). Pro ballplayers can have some weird ideas. You don’t want to completely cater to that.

      Presumably KC signed Broxton to be Soria’s caddy anyway.

      If Broxton is back, even without Soria, nice pen: broxton, Holland, escobar and some useful pieces. They even demoted Coleman.

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      • geo says:

        If Escobar is in the pen I wouldn’t call it good; the only Escobar the Royals have plays shortstop. Not sure who you’re thinking of.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Geo, whoops, I meant Herrara.

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      • Paul says:

        Herrera was terrible yesterday. Command is 30 right now. He won’t make it through April here. And the changeup is meh, despite the 13 mph diff.

        Meanwhile, Aaron Crow actually DID strike out murderer’s row on Friday night, overlooked because right after Yost overmanaged him into a second inning and let him load the bases.

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    • MTUCache says:

      I agree, although I think it goes even further than that… The people who choose to be number-crunchers around here assume that for the manager it’s only a calculated risk based on the situation and the resources he has available (like a poker hand).

      They conveniently forget that these are human beings here, and whether we think it makes sense or not, it’s important for them to have defined roles and a hierarchy.

      They also conveniently forget that the manager/GM aren’t always making decisions based on what’s best for their team in that particular game, but over the season as a whole or even beyond the season. If tagging Broxton as the closer does work out, and they’re able to flip him for a couple of prospects that’s a huge haul. If they don’t, and Holland gets them an extra win this season, it may not make a bit of difference.

      Anyway, I agree, being a big-league manager right now is a tough situation. If you go by the book you get trashed for not making hard decisions. If you go away from the book, 90% of fans aren’t going to have a clue why you’re doing it. Either way, if your team underperforms, for whatever reason, you’re scapegoat #1.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      geo, is it clear that Holland is going to be used in the highest leverage situations though? Or is he going to be a “set-up man” who comes into the game in the 8th inning when there’s a save situation, regardless of who’s coming to plate?

      If they pitch him in the highest leverage situations, that’s great. But if he’s just a set-up man, and he’s not called into the game in the 7th inning against the heart of the lineup, then it’s not helping them win any more than putting him in the 9th.

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      • geo says:

        Well, he’s the guy who came in in the highest leverage situation they had over the weekend: Tie game, bases loaded with one out in the 8th inning on Friday.

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    • Tom says:

      The one problem with the highest leverage/best reliever theory is that it is often applied with the benefit of hindsight.

      While it may be clear real time on some occasions that it’s the highest leverage spot the game will ever have, the only thing the manager really knows is that it is the highest leverage spot up until that point in the game.

      Maybe a guy on 1st and third 2out in the 7th inning up 1 run, turns out to be the highest leverage spot as the team goes on to score 4 runs in the 8th? Or maybe the following inning the bases are loaded with no out in that same with that same 1 run lead

      It’s easy to go through a box score at the end of the game and say obviously the closer (best reliever) should have been used in this one specific spot, but most managers tend not to be able to know how future innings will play out .

      Also does anyone know what the breakdown of high leverage situations are. Yes there are a number of low leverage 3 run saves, but it almost seems that the general perception is growing that the 7th or 8th inning is the most frequent highest leverage spot? Is that the case or just perception?

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      • CJ says:

        I think this 7th or 8th inning high leverage example is because managers tend to pull setup guys who, say, load the bases with one out far more often than they pull closers in the same jam.

        If that’s true (and it’s only anecdotal evidence, so forgive me) then you’d imagine the highest leverage situations /that a reliever can enter/ is in those innings. The leverage in the 9th in a close game is almost certainly higher.

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      • Paul says:

        I think CJ said this point about as well as it can be said. I will just add emphasis on reliever leverage being hugely dependent on the manager. Joe Madden will burn his entire bullpen to get the matchups he needs to win ONE game. Ned Yost is apparently trying to project how fresh Broxton or Holland will be by the time they get back for the home opener. In other words, one guy puts his pitchers in a position to succeed, and the other has no freaking clue what that means.

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  9. AA says:

    Would be interesting to see if the 103 mph Broxton came back.

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  10. Terrible Ted says:

    Ship him to the sox. The red ones.

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  11. HilariousDude says:

    Might want to delete this article..

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  12. Sam says:

    Broxton was… interesting today

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  13. Sam says:

    Well, Broxton’s pitching today was… interesting

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  14. Tim says:

    Broxton’s back, all right!

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