Well, here it is.
I suppose it isn’t my place to be the official historian of how and when the criticisms of Jonathan Broxton began, but I feel I’m on safe ground saying that they were born in anger over his failure to close some high-profile games, most notably in the 2008 National League Championship Series and then again in 2009.
In a stretch that extended into June 2010, the flames were lit every time Broxton disappointed in what was labeled a “high-profile” game, though there were games just as prominent in which Broxton breezed, as well an overwhelming record of success in other games. From 2006 through the first half of 2010, Broxton had nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, more strikeouts than baseunners allowed. He blew people away, time and again, in critically important moments.
I really think it’s important to be clear about this. For the longest time, the concern that Broxton’s detractors had was not that he couldn’t get anyone out, but just that he wouldn’t get the job done in October. The explanation offered the most was that he didn’t have the backbone, guts or other relevant body part to succeed under pressure.
I never bought into that argument, because I saw Broxton succeed too many times under pressure – including in the playoffs – to see a pattern, and that given another opportunity, there were more reasons to believe he would succeed than there were that he’d fail. Many more reasons. Baseball history is filled with onetime October failures who found redemption.
Would you have abandoned Mariano Rivera after Game 7 in 2001? Would you have abandoned Dennis Eckersley after Game 1 in 1988? Would you have stood by him just because he had a tough-looking mustache?
The stats did tell the story. Broxton dominated. He wasn’t perfect. He was merely superb.
The problems of Jonathan Broxton today are different problems entirely.
Broxton is having trouble getting people out, period. He has retired the side in order once in eight outings. He has allowed 13 base runners in 7 1/3 innings while striking out five. He’s being touched not just in save situations but in non-save situations. He’s allowing runs not in playoff games in October, but mid-week games in April.
It’s a continuation of the way he has pitched since late-June, after the 48-pitch nightmare against the Yankees at the end of a week of heavy use, when his touch abandoned 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’m still not even convinced this is the end for Broxton as a topflight reliever – it’s still April. Are we giving up on Kenley Jansen, who has had an even worse month?
But perhaps it Broxton’s time. That being said, whether he’s the closer or a middle reliever isn’t relevant. If you don’t believe the guy can get three outs with a four-run lead, you’re basically saying you don’t believe in him, period.
There is one thing I will insist on, however. For nearly five seasons – an eternity for most relievers, longer than, for example, the elite tenures of Eric Gagne or Takashi Saito as Dodgers – Jonathan Broxton was a great, great relief pitcher. The NLCS losses were crushing – indeed, for many they were poisonous – but he’s hardly the first great hurler who has pitches he’d like to get back. He has truly been one of the best relief pitchers in Los Angeles Dodger history, whether his best days are over or not.