Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Jonathan Broxton

The bullpen was one of the strengths of the 2011 Kansas City Royals and is perceived to be one again heading into 2012.  In fact, with the anticipation that the team’s five man starting rotation is likely to be average at best, the Royals have made moves to bolster their already strong relief corps in an effort to forge a ‘super bullpen’.

I am not going to get into the validity of whether a great bullpen can counterbalance a poor rotation.  I know a bad bullpen can wreck a good rotation, but whether it works the other way around is yet to be seen.   Suffice it to say, the Royals expect to have a top tier bullpen in 2012, which is logical given the fine level of performances they received from so many reliever last year.

Of course, relievers are among the most volatile creatures on the planet.   One day you are Brad Lidge, premier closer in baseball, and the next day your, ugh, Brad Lidge.  Any Royals fan that was around and aware in 1990 is keenly familiar with the spectacular disintegration of Mark Davis.   The list of lock down relievers who imploded is long and ugly and every team in baseball has a long one.   Add the factor of youth and the possibility for disappointing results from highly thought of bullpen arms becomes even more likely.

Kansas City, however, has a valuable commodity when it comes to overcoming the potential devastating volatility of a young bullpen:  a lot of arms.

Right now, the favorites to break camp in the pen are Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Jose Mijares, Aaron Crow and Luis Mendoza.   Based on what we have heard out of camp, I don’t know that you can make an argument on the first six (you can make an argument about the logic that leads to the first six and whether it is right or wrong, but you pretty much have to admit that those six names are at the top of a whiteboard in Dayton Moore’s office).  With Mendoza pitching well in camp to date (it is admittedly early), one gets the feeling that the Royals will want to keep him around, even if Paulino and Duffy win the final two rotation spots – which I think they will.

If that is the seven man pen, then the Royals will have these familiar names starting the year in Omaha:  Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Blake Wood, Everett Teaford, Jeremy Jeffress and Nathan Adcock.  

In Herrera, you have the organization’s closer of the future (or at least back of the bullpen fixture of the future, anyway).   Possessing the best fastball in camp, the 21 year old would have been a lock to make virtually any bullpen of the past ten years. 

While Wood is something of a whipping boy amongst Royals fans, he did throw 69.2 pretty decent major league innings in his second season.  He also cut his home run allowed rate in half and upped his strikeouts per nine innings to 8.0 from 5.6 the year before, and did so without elevating his walk rate (which is still too high).    Blake is no star, but he has gone from THE 8th inning guy in 2010 to a pitcher who probably won’t make the club in 2012 while improving his game.

Last spring, Tim Collins was the darling of camp.  He was a strikeout machine in the minors and Tim got off to a quick start in the majors only to be undone by spotty (at best) control.   Still, Collins threw 67 innings last year, struck out 60 and allowed just 52 hits.   Early on this spring, he is showing much better ability to consistently throw strikes and, wait for it, he is lefthanded.  Like Wood and Herrera, he would have been a lock to make this team in most any other year – hell, he WAS a lock just last year.

While it is possible that Everett Teaford, another lefty, will start if sent back to Omaha, his big league future is probably as a reliever.  In 2011, Teaford appeared in 23 games out of the pen, started 3 more and basically did everything you could ask.    That is not enough to make this year’s bullpen.

There are four pitchers with experience (save for Herrera, who has the best arm of the bunch), who the Royals can draw on and barely miss a beat.

Broxton not healthy?  No problem, pull up Herrera or Wood.   Mijares not worth the trouble?  Go to Collins or Teaford. One can create quite a doomsday scenario and still have a hard time getting this bullpen down to average. 

Let’s say Joakim Soria is ineffective and Jonathan Broxton never healthy:  the Royals’ closer would become Greg Holland, with Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera setting him up.   At the same time, let’s say the league figures Louis Coleman out and Jose Mijares is a disaster.   Enter Tim Collins and Blake Wood.   That may make you a little nervous, but remember we are talking about sixth and seventh inning guys at this point.   Simultaneously, Luis Mendoza reverts to pre-2010 form or has to go into the rotation.   The Royals can call upon Everett Teaford (who might be a better options as the long man anyway).

All of the above could happen and the Royals would still have Nathan Adcock in Omaha, who frankly wasn’t bad in 2011 and probably will be better in 2012.   They also have an electric arm down there in Jeremy Jeffress.   Like many, I am not sure Jeffress will ever ‘figure it out’, but if you have to replace half your bullpen before you resort to calling up a guy who can throw 100 mph, that is pretty nice situation to be in.

All that and we have not mentioned any of the non-roster guys like lefties Tommy Hottovy and Francisley Bueno, the highly thought of Brandon Sisk (yes, another lefty) or the ‘other guy’ in the Melky Cabrera trade:  Ryan Verdugo.   Another lefty, Verdugo is a guy who would have gotten a serious look when the Royals were stocking their bullpen with the Jamey Wrights of the world.  Now, he has zero shot at making this team.

There are few real failsafes in the world, much less in baseball and certainly not when it comes to bullpens, but the 2012 Kansas City Royals’ group comes pretty close.   Depending on who is healthy and who is effective, they may not be great, but are almost certain to be good and, at the very worst, likely to be no worse than above average.

xxx

 

So when Clark, Nick and I were binge drinking divvying up the 40-man roster assignments, I drew Jonathan Broxton. That’s great. Because I pretty much already put the keyboard to the internet and laid down my thoughts.

Some highlights…

– From 2005 to 2009, Broxton was one of the dominant relievers in the National League. First as a set up man, then as the closer for the Dodgers. In those four-plus years (he made only 14 appearances in 2005), Broxton had a 2.92 ERA with a 420 strikeouts in 317 innings.

Yeah… Dominant.

– In 2010, he was off to the best start of his career with a 0.83 ERA and a 13.2 SO/9 through June 26. Let’s go to the Royals Authority archives for the rest of the story…

Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9

After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

– He returned to pitch in 2011, but struggled with his command, walking nine and striking out 10 in 12 innings of work. Yeah, that’s a small sample, but it’s the only thing we have. At any rate, it’s notable because the control issues that plagued him the second half of 2010 were still an issue in 2011.

Broxton hit the DL in early May with fluid on his elbow. He tried to rehab in July and finally had surgery in September to remove a bone spur and other loose bodies that were said to be hampering his attempts to recover.

– At his peak, Broxton was pumping 97 mph gas. On average. Last year, his average fastball was 94 mph. Before he had elbow surgery. This chart best illustrates his drop in velocity. What’s interesting is that even while Broxton was having a great start to his 2010 season, his velocity was down from his previous year.

Now, his agent is throwing around phrases like “reinventing himself.” Hmmm…

– Broxton will make $4 million in base salary with an additional $1 million in incentives based on appearances. That’s down from the $7 million he made last year with the Dodgers in what would have been his final year of arbitration.

The Broxton move gives the Royals options. He can provide cover for Joakim Soria if he has difficulty staying healthy. He can serve as a reliable set-up man. He can be trade bait at the deadline. Or Soria could be dealt if he reestablishes his value. It also allows the Royals to try last season’s relievers like Aaron Crow or Everett Teaford in the rotation.*

*Not a huge fan of the asterisk, but I need to have one here. The entire proceeding paragraph is valid only if Broxton is healthy and has regained his control.

Broxton represents a $4 million gamble. But you know what? That’s what gamble’s cost on the open market. If Broxton was a sure thing, he’d be looking at a multi-year deal where he would be cashing a $12 million check per annum.

The bullpen – on paper at least – looks to be a strength. Assuming an eight man pen, because Yost won’t be able to resist…

Soria – closer
Broxton – 8th inning set-up
Holland – 7th inning set-up
Coleman – ROOGY
Mijares – LOOGY #1
Teaford – LOOGY #2
Herrera – general relief
Random long reliever

Again, that’s on paper. Best case scenario. However we know bullpens are notoriously fickle creatures. Last year’s pen was a strength. At least GMDM seems intent to build a better one. I’m still not sold on the strategy that you survive on your starters and thrive on your pen. But with the arms Moore has collected, it will be interesting to see how this great experiment works.

After the flurry of Colby Rasmus rumors the night before, we should have known something was up. Smoke screen style.

Because really, who saw the Jonathan Broxton signing?

No one, that’s who.

My initial reaction to the trade was this is exactly the kind of thing Dayton Moore has done over the last couple of years… Kick the tires on a relatively low cost guy with a bit of upside. Most recently, he did the trick with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. With the Melk-Man, it netted the Royals a starting pitcher. With The Frenchman it bought us two more years of the French Quarter in right field.

Hopefully, the Royals will get fair value for their efforts here.

Yet there’s considerable risk involved. The guy hasn’t pitched since last May 3. And that was the feather in a whole cap of ugly that stretched back to the end of June in 2010. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Last May, when Broxton exited the Dodgers game against the Cubs in early May he had been brought in to hold a 1-1 tie, retired the first batter, but was pulled after missing the strike zone with eight consecutive balls. Following the game, Dodger manager Don Mattingly affirmed Broxton was still his closer, but he hit the DL the following day, with fluid buildup in his elbow. He also revealed that in 2010 he had an MRI that revealed a bone spur.

Ah… 2010. Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9
After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

The numbers are so polar that you would think there had to be signs of an impending collapse. Except there weren’t any signs. From 2005 to 2009, Broxton had been as consistent as you would hope from a relief pitcher. Entering the pitch count game in 2010, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA, a 13.2 SO/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. He was enjoying the best season of his career. Then it all changed.

So did the high pitch count damage Broxton? Impossible to say, but like Gil Meche, I’d bet there were problems lurking underneath the surface before the extended (and unnecessary) outings. The bone spur was evidence that something structurally was wrong. And they apparently were present in the elbow around this time.

In an article from September in the LA Times, Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott speculated that Broxton and the Dodgers were a tad too optimistic when he reported to a rehab assignment in July. His agent also revealed he had elbow soreness after his first rehab appearance and chose to keep it under wraps.

(This is so damn typical. Pitch through the pain. Somehow this never works. It also raises the question about his earlier health. Did Broxton have pain back in 2010 and try to work through it? This seems increasingly possible.)

Abbott’s take on his client is somewhat… Strange.

“The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 [mph] might be over,” Abbott said. “But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”

I’m not too sure I’ve heard an agent so candid about one of his players. “Transition” and “reinvent” aren’t words those guys throw around. Mainly because they aren’t exactly the things GMs like to hear when they’re considering their client.

Enough about Broxton. How does the affect the Royals? (Everything from here on out assumes Broxton will be healthy.) What GMDM did for the Royals on Tuesday was, in one large stroke, create a ton of flexibility for his team. The Royals were already going to try Aaron Crow and Everett Teaford in the rotation, and now they have cover if either one of these guys makes the move. If not, then the Royals strongest part of the team just got a little stronger. Imagine a healthy Joakim Soria in the ninth, preceded by Broxton in the eighth, who was preceded by Greg Holland in the seventh. That is a nasty, nasty bullpen.

And if everything works out, then the Royals can either contend (Yessssss!) or they can flip Broxton to a lucky contender at the deadline and pick up a prospect in return.

I saw a bunch of Tweets following the Broxton announcement speculating that Soria could move to the rotation. (From the national media, naturally.) There is absolutely no way that will happen. Zero. Chance. For a number of reasons. One, he’s never, ever been remotely stretched out in the majors. Two, his injury history makes him a risk to break down under a heavier workload. Three, his pitch selection has become limited in the closer role and prone to breakdown under repeated viewing. And four, the Royals love him as the closer.

There’s also speculation that this means the Royals could move Soria. Again, this deal has no impact on Soria’s future. As I pointed out, Broxton is far from a sure thing. If the Royals are trying to contend in the Central, they’d be gambling on their closer in a big way if they dealt Soria. No way this happens. Besides, after Soria’s struggles and ailments last summer, trading him now would be selling at his ultimate low point. Uh-uh. Not going to happen.

I know GMDM said this wasn’t a precursor to another deal, but if not, it’s difficult to understand why the Royals would chose to throw money at what was one of the stronger parts of their team last year. Especially when that part is the bullpen, which is always in flux as far as performance goes. There were reportedly five to six teams interested in Broxton, and since he’s coming here as a setup guy to reestablish his value, it’s safe to say the Royals offered the most cash. Probably by a lot. Bob Dutton tweeted that the Royals strategy seems to build the best bullpen they can because that’s more affordable that picking up a starting pitcher. The theory is good, I guess. But we’ve seen how investing in a bullpen can be a fiscal gamble. Plus, your bullpen doesn’t mean a thing if your starting pitchers can’t stake you to a lead. GMDM bought himself some flexibility. Now he needs to leverage that to his advantage. Something he hasn’t usually been able to do.

And the Royals still need a quality starting pitcher if we’re thinking about contention in 2012.

Given the money involved, this isn’t a bad deal for the Royals. But it’s a strange one. GMDM is a bit of a gambler, whose bets paid off in 2011. We’ll see if he still has the touch in 2012.