Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still backing Broxton... for now

I haven't written many, if any, blogs about the polarizing Jonathan Broxton. I figured after tonight's meltdown, now is the time.

I've been on the supporting side of the Broxton debate. He had the numbers to warrant such support. From 2006-2009, he was flat-out dominant: 2.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.8 K/9, 6.8 H/9 and a 3.49 K/BB ratio. The 2010 season started off great for Broxton, as he didn't allow a single run in nine April appearances, posting a 14:1 K/BB ratio and a .133 opponents batting average. Broxton gave up four runs (three earned) in 14 May appearances and was still his dominant self: 21:2 K/BB ratio and a 1.84 ERA to go along with 12 saves. He was still rolling along in June (9 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 13:2 K:BB, 3 saves).

Then June 27 came around. That was the infamous "Yankee" game. He entered the game with a four-run lead only to allow the Bronx Bombers to tie it. The Dodgers would lose the game in the 10th inning.

Since that time, Broxton has been downright awful. He's 1-3 with 7.90 ERA, .308 opp. BA and a 12:11 K:BB ratio.

Some argue Broxton doesn't have the mental toughness to be a top flight closer. I don't buy into that theory. That is one aspect of closing that is completely overblown by the fans and media alike.

Broxton has been a top flight closer since he took over for the injured Takashi Saito in 2008. He was a top flight closer for the better part of three months this season. In this day of "What have you done for me lately?" people seem to forget all the good Broxton has done.

As for his postseason struggles, well, that boils down to two pitches (the one to Stairs and the one to Rollins). Kind of a small sample size, wouldn't you say? But fans and the media will focus on that because it was in the playoffs -- right or not.

Despite my backing and positive thinking when it comes to Broxton, I cannot defend him tonight. While he didn't get much help from his 'mates (I'm looking at you Ronald Belisario and Casey Blake), he was still staked to a three-run lead facing a depleated Philadelphia lineup. Broxton did not record a single out while giving up four runs and the game. He hadn't pitched since Saturday, so I'm almost certain Broxton would take the mound regardless of the situation -- it just happened to be a save opportunity. I mean, when you walk Mike Sweeney by throwing a 3-2 slider that was nowhere near the strike zone, you knew it wasn't going to be a good night.

Dodger fans were spoiled for nearly 6 years with the closing combination of Eric Gagne and Saito. That is definitely a part of why people are so quick to criticize Broxton when he as a bad game. However, there aren't many, if any, who can defend him after this debacle.

Having said all that, Broxton is still the best closer option on this team. If Hong-Chih Kuo had the ability to pitch two or three days in a row, things might be different. Unfortunately, Broxton has lost the command on his pitches. When he's bad, he's baaaad. His velocity dipped a little in the middle of the season, but he was hitting 98 mph on the gun tonight, so we know he isn't hurt. His slider did not have the kind of bite it needed. While he's throwing slightly more sliders this season, he has completely abandoned the changeup. But none of that matters if he can't throw strikes with his fastball.

With all pitchers, though, it always comes back to command and location. Broxton simply does not have it right now.

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