Just How Bad Has Brewers’ Jonathan Broxton REALLY Been?

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There might not be a reliever that has drawn more ire in Milwaukee over the last nine months than Jonathan Broxton. The Brewers acquired the two time All-Star last August, sending two players to be named later to Cincinnati in exchanged for the big righty. Broxton was solid in all but one of his 11 appearances for the Brewers last year, and when Milwaukee decided to let Francisco Rodriguez test the free agent market, Broxton entered 2015 as the projected closer.

Neither fans nor writers alike seemed too enamored with Broxton as the team’s ninth inning man this season, and many were relieved when Broxton was bumped back in a setup role when K-Rod returned. When looking at Broxton’s numbers on the surface this season, it appears as though folks were correct to be wary of Jonathan’s performance: 24 hits and 14 earned runs given up in just 15.1 innings pitched. Broxton took the loss in last night’s game, giving up three runs in the eighth inning. With an 8.22 ERA, a $9 mil salary this season, and a $1 mil buyout, Broxton seems untradeable, right?

In many ways, however, Broxton has been a better pitcher this season than he has for the last several years. After seeing his fastball velocity decrease for three straight seasons, the big righty has suddenly gained nearly one MPH on his heater over last season. His average fastball velocity of 94.3 MPH the hardest he’s thrown since 2012, and Broxton is generating more swinging strikes at 12.5% than he has in any season dating back to 2009. Jonathan’s K rate of 25% is his best mark since 2010, and he is currently walking batters at the lowest rate of his 11 year career.

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So why hasn’t the Brewers’ burly right hander experienced more success? Plenty of bad luck appears to be a major culprit. Over the course of his career, Broxton has given up a .306 batting average on balls in play, which is right around league average. This season, however, Broxton’s been roughed up by the BABIP gods, with an astonishingly high mark of .447 causing significant damage to his ERA. Broxton’s 20% HR/FB ratio is nearly two and a half times higher than his career mark 8.1%, despite giving up fly balls at a 14% lower rate than last season. Neither of these figures are likely to be sustainable over the course of an entire season.

While earned run average may say Broxton is a well below average pitcher this year, the advanced metrics couldn’t be any more the opposite. Operating under the assumption that a pitcher doesn’t control what happens after the ball leaves his hand, these metrics tend to weigh factors like strikeouts, walks, and home runs (the thing a pitcher himself can specifically control) more heavily. Given this, Broxton’s xFIP (described by Fangraphs as “Expected Fielder Independent Pitching where Home Runs are calculated as 10.5% of Fly Balls induced”) of 2.91 paints a much better picture of Broxton’s actual production this season than his ERA does. Skill Interactive Earned Run Average, or SIERA, a metric that is considered the best for predicting future performance, pegs Broxton at a 2.77 mark. With a cFIP- of 92, Broxton’s individual performance this season is rated better than pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, Jon Lester, and Adam Wainwright.

Yes, it appears that Jonathan Broxton has struggled mightily this season, but when we look a little deeper we find that much of the blame can be shouldered by other factors. Given an outrageously high BABIP and a bloated ERA, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Broxton might individually be enjoying one of his finest seasons. Though fans and local media alike are calling for Broxton’s head, manager Craig Counsell would be remiss to stop using Broxton in high leverage situations for the Brewers. If Milwaukee hopes to move Broxton and at least most of large contract, they’ll need to continue to showcase him in late-inning relief.

With “regression to the mean” about all but inevitable, the Brewers’ hard-throwing right hander should soon start to experience as much success with his results as he has with his peripherals. Once that happens, teams like the Marlins that are in need of late inning relief should start lining up to pursue the Jonathan Broxton.

Next: The Brewers' Wealth of Middle Infielders

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