One of the most interesting names on the free agent scrap heap is Jonathan Broxton. Broxton was once the premier relief pitcher in the National League until…Torre.
The pool of potential landing places for Broxton is shrinking from a reported ten last week to a more modest handful, with apparent preference given to teams within proximity to the gigantic closer’s off-season home in Atlanta.
Is the Big Guy a worthy risk, given his injury history and diminishing velocity? Yes, yes he is.
In my mind there are two factors contributing to Broxton’s potential rebound: pedigree and rehabilitation.
Jonathan Broxton was, as stated above, one of the very best relievers in the NL from 2006-2009. His 2.53 FIP over that span ranks him third among all relief pitchers. The Dodgers right-hander posted more than 8 fWAR in that time, good for fourth among all relievers. He can get guys out.
Broxton threw his fastball near 100 mph in those days his slider devastated all in its path, registering swinging strikes by the bushel and weak contact aplenty. Hardly a control pitcher, Broxton walked nearly 10% of the batters he faced in his heyday. His ability to control the slider — while keeping it out of the middle of the plate — made him special.
Down and away from right-handed batters, on the shoetops to lefties. Hard to get into trouble there, especially at 88mph with the spectre of triple-digit cheese looming over the proceedings.
Broxton started 2010 as his old self but struggled mightily in the second half. He still mananged decent numbers but clearly something wasn’t the same with the giant reliever. He still struck out more than a batter an inning but his walk rate soared, as did he strong ground ball numbers.
With only 12+ innings pitched, 2011 was a write-off of epic proportions. It still counts but severely clouds any and all projections for Broxton. How much does he have left? Did Joe Torre kill his arm, once and for all? His stuff in 2010/2011 certainly suggests so, as his average fastball velocity dipped dropped 2 mph, ditto for his slider.
Enter the rehab portion of my two-pronged Broxton attack. While Broxton avoided major surgery, he did have a procedue to remove “loose bodies” from his right elbow. This injury marks the first documented arm trouble of his career if you ignore the cliff Joe Torre drove him over the side of when he worked him four times in five days in 2010, including a 48 pitch performance that makes me cringe just thinking about it.
It is often said pitchers throw harder after the undergo a procedure like Tommy John tendon transplant surgery. It isn’t as though the new tendon makes their arm any stronger, it is the time they put in rehabbing and working out in a highly specific fashion.
Broxton’s agent will surely profess his client to be The Best Shape of His Life, there is a chance it ends up being true. The work required to recover from arthroscopic surgery potentially adds years to Broxton’s career, provided he actually does it and continues with it once he gets a contract.
Whichever team signs Broxton is sure to add many incentives linked to the pitcher’s health. Two dangled carrots (future employment and present earnings) can do strange things to a man’s work ethic.
Of course, Broxton might be just good, old-fashioned done. Nothing left in the arm, a two-pitch pitcher tries to cheat and deke his way through another season like BJ Ryan in 2008. Without an overpowering fastball that requires all manner of early starts, a slider out of the strike zone is just another pitch in the dirt.
If Broxton’s arm is clear and his body is fit, there is very little to suggest he can’t rebound and provide excellent relief pitching for a team in need. Considering the number of teams interested, he isn’t exactly the scrap heap treasure many fans assume. He won’t work for free but he represents a huge (SWIDT?) opportunity for whichever team brings him aboard.