Monday, August 25, 2008
He No Closer: Phillies 5, Dodgers 2
There has been quite a bit of point-counterpoint over the last 24 hours regarding Broxton's fitness for duty, and I wanted to address each of the relevant charges separately:
- Charge: Broxton was just unlucky in yesterday's game. Throwing a four-pitch walk to a AAA hitter does not qualify as "unlucky" in any reasonable version of pitcher evaluation I have ever heard of.
- Charge: Broxton melts down in the second half. Viewed by itself, the answer is no, and in fact his career 3.20 first half ERA is actually slightly higher than his career 3.12 second half number. However, that said, Broxton has had atrocious Septembers (career 4.09 ERA), mostly a remnant of his 2005 and 2007 campaigns. The former we may dismiss as the first callup of a young pitcher, the latter no. It does seem inconclusive, though, given his 1.80 ERA in September 2006.
- Charge: Broxton is worse in the ninth inning. It's true; he has allowed a .259/.341/.351 in the ninth over his career, numbers that are appreciably worse than his .224/.302/.330 career numbers. Of course, he's even worse in the seventh inning (.276/.358/.526), but nobody cares about that because of the focus on the ninth.
- Charge: Broxton's blown saves unfairly penalize him; his holds need to be included in the denominator to properly assess his work. Perhaps so. Much of this gets to the general unfairness of how the save is calculated; blown holds become blown saves, but it is not possible to earn a save in the eighth when your team's closer comes in to nab it. Adding his holds into the equation, that means seven blown saves over 13 holds plus 17 save opportunities means he's still blowing 23% of his save opportunities. That's still a large number. Broxton may be a "good" closer for some definition of "good", but he's certainly not elite.
Of course, the problems with Broxton really just highlights the issues the offense had. The Dodgers didn't score in the tenth with a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation (Casey Blake in fact hit into a double play, and even missed a hanging breaking ball that he should have hit hard). The expectations this team had were unrealistic, and Manny and Blake's acquisition weren't going to fix the lack of power in other places, the poor situational hitting that seems to plague the Dodgers on and off, the team's increasingly eroding defense, and the suddenly porous bullpen.
The more crucial inquiry, I believe, is in how a pitcher fares in more highly leveraged situations. While some analysts opine that it's no more difficult to pitch an inning of shutout ball in the 9th inning than in the 2nd inning, many ballplayers will tell you otherwise. The 25th-27th outs indeed are more difficult to record than the 4th-7th outs of the game. Some guys just don't have the mental makeup to close.
Is Broxton one of those guys? Frankly, I think it's too early to know, really, and I'm not sure that question can be confidently answered until he's been given the job in Spring Training and allowed to keep it for a full season, rather than having it thrust upon him in July.
Sure. But that's not being unlucky.