From 2006 to 2010, Jonathan Broxton was a helluva relief pitcher. During those five seasons, the big right-hander accumulated 9.2 Wins Above Replacement, leaving only Mariano Rivera (11.0) and Jonathan Papelbon (10.8) as more efficient relievers.
Broxton was considered one of the best relievers in baseball, but in the years that followed, his fastball velocity dropped along with his effectiveness. Since 2011, his last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Broxton’s WAR (1.1) is more reminiscent of a replacement player. His strikeouts dwindled, he allowed too many home runs and, as a result, his FIP was nowhere close to where it used be during his prime years. Oh, and his ERA suffered too.
The Milwaukee Brewers have no need for an aging closer, not when they’re about to start the rebuilding process. Therefore, the Brewers would love to get rid of him and his $9 million contract, but Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says there’s a good chance Milwaukee won’t be able to move him.
Broxton figured to be difficult to trade because of his $9 million salary and no-trade protection in his contract. Toss in an ugly season (7.16 ERA in 30 outings) and Melvin likely has heard mostly crickets when bringing up his name.
Yes, Broxton hasn’t been a half-way decent reliever in 2015, so much so that manager Craig Counsell removed him from the eighth-inning role (which is a ridiculous role, but I’ll save that rant for another time). If you look at Broxton’s old-school numbers since he joined the Brewers midway through the 2014 season, you could probably say he should be put in a long relief position instead of one that pitches in primarily high-leverage situations. He posted a 4.35 ERA in 11 appearances last year, and has been hit for a 6.91 ERA so far in 2015. In terms of WAR (-0.1), he’s actually been less valuable than a replacement player.
But we don’t care about old-school stats at this site, do we? Instead, we like looking at stats that paint a clearer picture of a player’s performance. So. Let’s do that.
The difference between Broxton’s ERA and FIP is enormous. In fact, the difference (6.91-4.20=2.71) is Major League Baseball’s fifth-largest contrast among relievers who have pitched at least 20 innings. In other words, he’s a lot better than what is Earned Run Average claims. Probably because he’s been a victim of some pretty horrible luck. For his career, Broxton has allowed a .306 batting average on balls in play, which is very close to the norm seeing as how about 30% of all balls put in play fall for hits. But this year, Broxton is allowing a grand .378 BABIP, the highest since his rookie campaign. There’s a good chance that high number won’t be sustainable for the entirety of the season, meaning it’s safe to say Broxton’s numbers will start to get better.
In fact, almost every peripheral stat that we have at our disposal say that Broxton will have a plethora of more success as the season goes on.
Broxton’s FIP isn’t great, but not nearly as bad as his ERA. His xFIP is fantastic. His SIERA, which is a good predictor for future performance, is below 3.00. His cFIP, which I haven’t cited before on this website, is above average.
In case you are unfamiliar with the relatively new cFIP, I’ll let the creator of the metric, Jonathan Judge, explain it to you. Below is a brief synopsis of what the stat accomplishes, but if you want the full explanation, go here.
cFIP has multiple advantages: (1) it is more predictive than other pitcher estimators, especially in smaller samples; (2) it is calculated on a batter-faced basis, rather than innings pitched; (3) it is park-, league-, and opposition-adjusted; and (4) in a particularly important development, cFIP is equally accurate as a descriptive and predictive statistic.
The last characteristic makes cFIP something we have not seen before: a true pitcher quality estimator that actually approximates the pitcher’s current ability.
We are always looking for statistics that can accurately predict a pitcher’s future performance, and cFIP does it admirably. Any cFIP under 100 is considered above average, and Broxton has a 92 cFIP. According to this metric, Broxton should be an above-average reliever going forward in 2015. He’s striking out almost 24% of batters, his highest rate since 2010, and his walk percentage is the lowest of his career. There’s no way his ERA should be pushing 7.
The above is why teams in need of relief help should target Broxton. He’s better than how he’s pitched, and the concern over his declining fastball should be moot. His fastball velocity is averaging 94.3 mph, up from 93.4 in 2014. Broxton has, however, seemed more susceptible to giving up home runs, though. His 20.8 HR/FB% is definitely concerning, but a change of venue to a stadium more pitcher-friendly than Miller Park could be the answer. Either way, I don’t see that percentage rising anymore. If the season ended today, Broxton’s HR/FB% would be the 14th-highest mark in baseball since the stat began to be tracked.
The money situation is still an issue, but I’m sure the Brewers would be more than happy to pay their fair share of his remaining contract. Milwaukee needs to get as much money off the books as possible. The Brewers won’t get much in return for Broxton, that much is certain, but anything they can get should be viewed as a win.
Broxton is not the dominant reliever he once was, but he can still help a contending team in need of a solid reliever. Hopefully, Doug Melvin hears more than just crickets when he brings Broxton’s name up to teams.