Pitch to Watch: Jonathan Broxton’s Cutter

Let’s not forget: Jonathan Broxton was sharp with the Reds this season. The hulking righty recorded a 2.82 ERA and a 2.42 FIP. The strikeouts shot up to 8.0 per nine innings from 6.3, the walks were slashed to 1.2 per nine innings from 3.5.

From September on, we saw shades of the exceptional Jonathan Broxton who dominated hitters in Los Angeles from 2007 through 2009. Broxton pitched 13.1 innings after September 1st, allowing just a .192/.224/.277 line against and a 1.35 ERA, striking out 14 and walking just one. It would just be another on the pile of small reliever sample sizes, except for one detail: he added a cutter in late August.

This development — first pointed out by R.J. Anderson of Baseball Prospectus as far as I can tell — seemingly matches up with Broxton’s great September performance too well to be pure coincidence. The results on the cutter alone are in support: 14 whiffs on 82 offerings (17.0 percent) and just 19 balls (23.1 percent), terrific rates for any pitch.

Broxton’s overall whiff rates exhibited an acute post-cutter rise, spiking to 11.6 percent after he managed just a 6.4 percent mark in Kansas City. His improved control put him in the position to make the whiffs count.

The cutter appears to be the main driver, particularly against right-handed hitters. He went with it on the first pitch over 50 percent of the time from September on, and the minuscule 23.1 percent ball rate routinely put hitters in unfavorable counts. The post-cutter difference is clear:

Post-cutter counts are denoted by the darker green shade, the total counts by the entire bar.

Broxton passed through nearly half again as many 3-0 and 2-1 counts as 1-2 counts before the cutter; after, he saw 1-2 counts 21 times against just 19 occasions of 3-0 and 2-1 combined. The starkest difference comes with 3-0, down to just three in September and October combined after 18 in the five months preceding.

Broxton only threw 82 cutters last season. Our experience level with the pitch is small and his ability to rack up strikes could be due to unfamiliarity or luck, not elite control. But unlike most pitches with a wrinkle, the cutter offers control to rival — or better — that of the fastball. The average cutter actually went for a strike slightly more often than the four-seamer (66.9 percent to 65.4 percent) over the past two seasons.

The Reds were understandably pleased with Jonathan Broxton’s performance down the stretch. The cutter will be the pitch to watch — if the 28-year-old can keep the reins on it, he should be able to carry his late-season resurrection into Cincinnati’s closer role this spring.

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Will H.
Will H.

I don’t have a subscription so I couldn’t read how Anderson came to these numbers and such… and you said he was the first as far as you can tell, so could you point me in the direction of some others so that I can see the details? Or perhaps something from his new pitching coach?

Because it certainly could be causation as you say, but small sample size aside, when I read language like strikeouts “shooting” and walks “slashing” and “stark differences” as the description of the difference between a month with three 3-0 counts versus the other months averaging four, it makes me worry if someone is too eager to make a full narrative that we can’t so easily be sure is there.

Again, you could be on to something, I’d just like some more analysis and research and details about his new pitch before I can see it really be the reason for a small sample change. Like, here’s 2012 k/9 by month: 8.22, 3.75, 9.60, 3.60, 6.00, 9.45. It seems tough to accept random fluctuation for most of it and then be sure of a reason for the end bit. And yes, the impressiveness of a 14 k/bb month with only a 1.35 ERA does stand out, but so too does his May 2010’s 21/2 k/bb with a 1.84 ERA, and there have been others. You know what I mean?

Oh, and just to clarify, how did you get other than 44 cutters thrown? I see that it’s about 12% of pitches thrown since the trade (375 total) so I don’t get 82 as the number. And when you mention his “acute post-cutter rise” in whiff rate, where do you get 6.4 to 11.6%? Do you mean the swinging strike rate, which does start with 6.4 but goes to 9.9, not 11.6? Or does that latter number come from somewhere else?

Thanks for clarifying…