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.