Broxton’s Got 99 (mph) Problems and That Pitch is One

Suffice to say being at last night’s game was horrific, since I was just there as a fan. And I was surrounded by Giants fans. And I was with my brother, who was basically in town for this game. And that’ll be the only game I get to see with him all year, unless the Dodgers make the playoffs.

Ech.

Anyway, strange managerial decisions aside, Jonathan Broxton threw 12 pitches last night before the Mound Incident That Shall Never Be Mentioned Again and it’s likely Broxton’s on the verge of being broken. I’m not saying this solely because of last night’s performance, but because of a lot of different things.

As I said about Sunday’s game, Broxton had the stuff, he was just getting hit (more on why he was getting hit below). Can’t really complain about that sort of thing, only thing that you can complain about is that he was in there for 44 pitches.

So the fans were told Broxton wouldn’t be used Monday or Tuesday, and here he was, on the mound on Tuesday.

Broxton’s velocity rate has been down all season, as LAist’s Jimmy Bramlett pointed out on Twitter.

This graph may break some borders, so if you’re having trouble viewing it, right click, “copy image location” and “paste” into an open browser.

Broxton's fastball speed 2006-2010

That one on the far right is the Sunday performance; this graph wasn’t updated for yesterday’s game. Sunday’s game is the only one that touches 100 so far this year, compared to the 12 times the fastball touched or went over 100 in 2009.

You’ll notice his fastball velocity is significantly down overall in 2010, which isn’t a huge deal considering how much Broxton was owning through game 74. I wouldn’t criticize that first big chunk of the season because Broxton was killing it then with a huge K/BB, a tiny hits/9 (26 in 32.2 innings) and basically no runs allowed.

In other words, he may have sacrificed some velocity intentionally for control. If that’s the case, keep doing what you’re doing, kid.

But the biggest problem is that tail end, right before the All-Star Break–that small chunk before the July 20th appearance. Where he was topping out at 98 or so at the start of the season, he began topping out at 96 and averaging well-below 95 during the Marlins and Cubs serieses. Broxton has had games where his average fastball velocity was below 95, but you can see for yourself, he’s never had a several-game span like that. Not since 2007 anyway.

Now fastball speed and movement isn’t everything to all pitchers, but it’s a lot to Broxton, who throws his fastball 75% of the time. Just so you can get an idea of how dramatic the drop is, here’s his pitch speeds for his three major pitches (four-seam fastball, slider and change-up):

Broxton pitch speeds 2007-2010 (7-21-10)

And with less velocity comes less movement. Here’s the movement from Sunday’s game:

Broxton's PitchF/X July 18, 2010

Broxton's PitchF/X July 18, 2010

On the final at-bat of that game, Broxton threw three fastballs to Matt Holliday and all three were 97.5 miles per hour with 9.5 inches of vertical movement. That Holliday got one is more a testiment to Holliday’s skill set (and slightly a testiment to Andre Ethier’s lack of range, when he was unable to catch the flyball that was hit behind him to the warning track).

*As an aside, looking over the pitches that were hit, it seems Holliday and Craig sat on the fastball, which is the only pitch Broxton threw to either of them, until he threw it down the middle. The one Holliday hit was 97, high and down the middle; Craig’s was half of a foot from down the middle of the plate. Looks like control over the pitch cost Broxton, though both Holliday’s and Craig’s hits were fieldable outs. They might have just gotten lucky, too. Such is the problem of a nine-pitch, two-at-bat sample size

And then here’s yesterday’s:

Broxton's PitchF/X July 20, 2010

Broxton's PitchF/X July 20, 2010

Much less speed, much less movement. And worst of all, the numbers are horribly misleading. Broxton faced the bottom of the Giants’ order and gave up a groundball infield single and a walk on a decent 3-2 pitch to put runners on first and second. I don’t know if Broxton would’ve been shelled for the rest of the inning if he continued on, but he was bound to face Andreas Torres and maybe even Buster Posey.

That being said, let’s move onto problem no. 2: Broxton’s BABIP is way, way above both career and league norms, and judging from the number of singles he’s given up this season, you probably could’ve guessed that:

Broxton's BABIP 2005-2010

Broxton's BABIP 2005-2010

I was gonna write a bit about how if velocity and movement continue to drop, Broxton will give up more extra-base hits, but it seems to be the opposite. The more it drops, the more singles he allows. And it’s entirely possible that that velocity drop is what’s skewing his BABIP. In the 7.1 innings he’s pitched since June 27 (the blown save against the Yankees), he’s allowed 13 hits, 6 walks (for 11 runs, all earned) and given up only one double, one triple and one home run. That home run was in a garbage time appearance in a 14-1 rout over the D-Backs and it was his first allowed all season.

The biggest problem, and the most telling one, is that his K/BB was 7:5 (minus last night’s IBB) in those innings. Compare this to the 48:5 ratio earlier in the season and you can see some of the picture.* And he only gave up 26 hits in those first ~33 innings he threw vs. the 13 in the 7.1 since? Small sample size and all, yeah, but it looks like he’s lost some control in addition to the velocity drop.

All these things seem to suggest Broxton’s lost his fastball as an out pitch.

Other bloggers are complaining that Broxton’s problems are due to abuse by the management, and with due reasoning. Though his average days of rest is the same as last year (1.6), Broxton has been seen warming up in the bullpen repeatedly on his days off. He’s had two weeks this season where he was either brought in or warming up for six consecutive days. If abuse is really the problem, it’d be interesting to see what would happen if he went on the DL for 15 days and was used properly from that point on.

As for now, Broxton isn’t just suffering bad BABIP luck, though that’s not helping. Something’s seriously wrong and it needs to be fixed, unless Broxton becomes another name in the trail of dead arms. A trip to the DL followed by some proper bullpen use by Joe Torre would help a lot, I think.

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2 Comments

Filed under Los Angeles Dodgers, MLB

2 responses to “Broxton’s Got 99 (mph) Problems and That Pitch is One

  1. Ryan

    so, how does broxton’s babip compare to other guys on the staff? I’ve heard tell the dodgers kind of suck on the defensive front this year, ‘specially in the infield, so if he’s giving up more ground ball singles than last year, that could be part of it, right? what’s his what’s-it-called fip or whatever. also, can you see how broxton’s numbers look when he goes over 20 pitches or so? it seems (from a totally subjective, half-counting viewpoint) that his effectiveness decreases greatly the more pitches he makes, moreso than the average reliever, anyway.

    • That’s a lot of questions!

      BABIP IS affected by defense, but not that much. Broxton’s BABIP is in the .380s, most bad defenses are usually in the .330s. Most Dodgers pitchers have lower BABIPs, somewhere below .300, because the Dodgers’ infield defense is surprisingly average-to-decent.

      ERA, FIP and xFIP are usually used to tell different things, but aligned, they make a decent slash stat for pitchers. ERA is ERA; even if flawed, it gives you a rough idea of how a pitcher’s doing. FIP tells you how a pitcher is doing in the stats he has control over and xFIP tells you how a pitcher is doing in the stats he has control over with standardized constant stats. So things a pitcher has control. Just generally speaking.

      Anyway, Brox’s ERA/FIP/xFIP line is this: 2.93/1.69/2.44. This kinda confirms what BABIP was saying, that he’s been having some bad luck, but it’s still not giving the full picture.

      As for the 20 pitches question, that’d be hard to answer ’cause I’d have to go back through every one of his records, but you can bet that if he’s gone over 20 pitches, it’s probably not a good outing.

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