Things aren’t going all that swell in Hollywood right now, not after Old Bud (Selig) decided to summon his infinite powers and take control of the Dodgers, wrestling (without much fight) control from the soon-to-be-single Frank McCourt. Realistically, though? This is probably a good thing for the Dodgers. It almost certainly is. With a little bit of quality management – something they haven’t seen recently – on both the business and baseball operations side of things, the Dodgers could get right in a hurry.
I don’t mean really soon. At least not really, really soon. But also not like… the sun is going to burn out and explode distant, either, though Selig’s “swiftness” on the Athletics’ situation will likely worry – and rightfully so – Dodgers’ fans. But they have some pretty quality pieces in Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. And they have a cornerstone piece in Clayton Kershaw. They also are a storied franchise in the annals of Major League Baseball, from their antiquity to Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax and their excellence in the sixties. They’re also the third-most highly valued franchise, behind only the Sawx and Bombers – the enormous market in Los Angeles helps.
So as humiliating as the move may be for the franchise, this is probably rock bottom. And rock bottom is a good thing; ask anyone who has ever been addicted, been affected by addiction or knows anything whatsoever about it. What goes down must come up… or something like that.
On the other hand, something that is very wrong that is probably not going to get right very soon is Jonathan Broxton.
I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating …
The only number there that’s even remotely encouraging is the strikeouts, but he’s clearly had to work harder to get those strikeouts, and anyway the strikeout rate, while high, pales compared to what Broxton did earlier in his career. Statistically, he simply has become a completely different pitcher.
While he was dominating from 2008 (96.3 mile per hour velocity) to ’09 (97.8 mph), he was throwing a truly elite fastball. But throughout 2010 – perhaps both before and after Torre’s patented abuse – he averaged 95.3 mph on the old Jugs. This season, he’s down to 94.8 on the gun. That’s still excellent velocity, but it’s no longer elite. Especially when you’re a two-trick pony, essentially always throwing a fastball or slider, most often the fastball (over 70 percent of the time in his career).
Weisman gave us this also, and I’m with him:
The anti-Broxton corps is feeling validated, on the theory, I guess, that the confidence problems they perceived early on have spread to his entire game. (There’s also a theory that Broxton’s repertoire was so simplistic that it was inevitable he’d be solved by opposing batters, though this seems to ignore that Rivera has essentially been throwing the same single pitch for about a decade and a half.)
I won’t be so arrogant that I’ll insist they’re wrong, but I will offer what I still believe to be a more logical explanation: relief pitchers, like NFL running backs, have inherently short shelf lives – I’ve been providing analysis of this for nearly the entire life of Dodger Thoughts – and Broxton is looking more like someone who is simply having the arc of a reliever. It’s the job.
I think we’re seeing, right now, an accelerated decline in Broxton’s skills. Like Weisman, I don’t think the hitters have “figured him out.” I think that when he was throwing 97-98 mph with decent to good control, and mixing in an excellent slider, he was superb. Now he’s throwing a slower fastball with relatively poor control, and he’s simply not as good. And he’s probably not as bad as he’s been, and can still be a useful reliever. But a return to form seems unlikely.
His slider hasn’t been the same pitch it was two years ago, either. In 2010 it was 87 mph and so far it’s been 87.3 in 2011, down from the pitches peak of 88.6 in 2009. Via FanGraphs’ pitch value, his slider was six runs above average in 2008 and eighteenth best among relief pitchers in baseball. In 2009, it was fifth best and 11 runs above average. In 2010, it was less than one run above average along with the fastball. In 2011, well, it’s thus far been more than a run below average and his fastball has been below average as well.
As Rob pointed out, the only thing remotely encouraging last season was the strikeouts. But his strikeout to walk ratio fell to well below three for the first time in three seasons, along with a significant drop in missed bats – going from fantastic to very good. This year, the strikeout rate is thus far below average – going from very good to plain bad – and his strikeout to walk ratio has plummeted to below two. Throw in a couple of taters already in April, and he’s already allowed his entire total from 2008 and half that he gave up in each of ’09 and ’10.
And all of this agrees with his swinging-strike percentage decline. Batters have swung and missed 13.2 percent of the time over Broxton’s career, the mountaintop being 14.5 in both 2008 and 2009. In ’10, that fell to 11.1 and this season it’s been just 9.9.
All of this just goes to show us, once again, that Mariano Rivera is very much the exception, not the rule. Very few relievers, if not nearly none of them – heck, perhaps zero of them – pitch brilliantly for very long, let alone into their forties… with the exception of Rivera. As such, among us stat-heads, he remains the only reliever-only pitcher we’re truly certain belongs in Cooperstown.
So along with a new owner and hopefully, at least if you’re a cognizant Dodgers fan, a new general manager, the Dodgers will also be needing a new closer. But if they do this the way they probably should, the right way, they won’t need the later for couple years. It seems a very good idea to cut the payroll and move some of their better players, sans Kershaw, to improve their debt position and replenish their farm system for a time when they can compete with some sustainability. During which, they won’t have much need for a closer.
The fans might grumble at first, and maybe not quite so many will keep showing up by the third and fourth inning, but they’ll be a lot happier and the franchise a lot healthier in the long run. In that sense, maybe they ought to just stick with Broxton for a while. After all, I am a Giants fan writing for a Giants blog, and I do rather enjoy watching Pat Burrell place Broxton offerings into baseball bleachers. Doubtful those folks south of me didn’t enjoy 2005-2008 and the parade of Eww the Giants sent to the mound for the ninth.
I’m also keenly aware the Dodgers won’t be in this state forever, if for very long. I intend to enjoy it while it lasts. So ya, Kemp’s walkoff home run today is sort of a buzzkill.