Should the Reds be worried about Jonathan Broxton?

Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

The big fella has been shaky of late. What's up?

The Reds lost a game yesterday in Pittsburgh that they certainly should have won. They scored four runs before making an out. The Pirates' starter, Jeanmar Gomez, left after the first inning with a sore arm. This was the kind of game even bad teams win every time, but things fell apart and they eventually lost in extra-innings. Jonathan Broxton took the brunt of the acrimony, as he gave up the game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth inning. He has been doing that kinda thing quite a bit recently, too, so folks were already kinda sore. Is this something we need to be worried about?

We should set aside the fact that the Reds signed Broxton for three years and $21 million this past offseason. We all know that spending that kind of money on a relief pitcher is almost never a good idea, especially when you are already spending that kind of money on another one (Sean Marshall). AND ESPECIALLY when you end up making Aroldis Chapman your closer anyway. They overpaid for minimal value, but that's not Broxton's fault. That's just how inefficient the market is for relief pitchers. And that's an entirely different conversation.

The conversation we should be having is about Broxton's performance. Are his recent struggles something about which we should be worrying? A number of folks are already calling for his head, blaming him for sucking honky apples and blaming Dusty Baker for letting him do it in hi-lev situations. With Aroldis Chapman snuggled securely in the closer's bassinet (weird metaphors day!) and Sean Marshall back on the shelf, Broxton is the big ol' #2 in the bullpen right now. The problem is that he's been throwing like a big ol' #2 out there. In 23⅓ innings so far this season, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all range between 4.63 and 4.84. Those aren't the kind of numbers you want from your primary set-up guy. Hell, those aren't the numbers you want from your primary mop-up guy. His K/9 is a measly 5.79, which is only better than crafty old guts-n'-guile Bronson Arroyo on the team. That's almost half his career rate. Something is going on here, and it is most certainly not a good thing.

So what's up? Well, it's tough to say. His fastball velocity is a full mile-per-hour off where it was last season (93.8 vs. 94.8). His slider is actually faster (89.7 vs. 88.0), which could mean it's flattening out. He's also throwing the slider more than he ever has (nearly 42% of his pitches). Of course, Pitch F/X is not registering many cutters for him, so it's very possible that his cutter is lumped in with the sliders here. Regardless, that cutter/slider has not been effective, measuring eight runs below average per 100 pitches.

So his fastball is bit less zippy and his slider/cutter ain't slidin'/cuttin' as much as we'd like. But should we be worried? The most telling stat of Broxton's season thus far is 23⅓ innings. You just can't really tell anything about anyone in that short amount of time. Also worth mentioning, Broxton's two meltdowns in Pittsburgh (he gave up six runs on April 14 and two yesterday) are the only occasions this season on which he has given up more than a single run. For comparison's sake, he has posted hitless outings in 11 of his 25 appearances. Dusty might want to let him cool off for a few days, or perhaps bring him in a few softer situations to help him get it right. Sam LeCure and JJ Hoover are both throwing rocks right now, so it's not like Broxton is the one and only righty that can handle the eighth inning. But really, it isn't anything I think we need to worry about right now. A couple of bad games this early in the season can make things look much, much worse than they actually are.

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