Tuesday, April 26, 2011
L.A.'s other In-N-Out: Broxton as closer?
By Christina Kahrl
The Dodgers haven't had somebody notch three straight 20-save seasons since Eric Gagne's pumped-up performance deflated after 2004. Heck, if you really want to play trivia, nobody has managed to give the Dodgers two 30-save seasons since that fateful year when Gagne cranked out the last of three of the best relief seasons ever.
If today's tug-of-war over who's the club's closer doesn't get resolved to Jonathan Broxton's benefit, Broxton may not get to be the pitcher who busts either string this season. At this writing, reports are mixed, with ESPNLosAngeles' Molly Knight reporting that Ned Colletti says Broxton's going to split time in the role with Vicente Padilla and Hong-Chih Kuo, while the The L.A. Times' Dylan Hernandez says Don Mattingly is backing Broxton as his closer. Drama, in L.A.? Maybe it's a miscommunication, maybe it's a difference of opinion between a GM and his skipper, and maybe it's just unfair to Broxton.
Unfair not just because of the mixed media message, but also because Broxton had notched saves in each of his first five appearances this season. He had gotten just one save opportunity since, and that was in Monday night's blown ballgame. This wasn't because Mattingly was avoiding using him; the Dodgers just hadn't had a ninth-inning save opportunity in two weeks. Broxton might have been a perfect six-for-six in his opportunities if not for shortstop Jamey Carroll's two-out error against the Marlins.
The reason why this story has legs, however, is because of Broxton's spectacular second-half collapse last year, when he did lose the job. Good in the early going, he got worked hard by Joe Torre in a short stretch at the end of June, working four times in five days, capped by his implosion on national TV against the Yankees on June 27. After that, he lost two or three ticks on his fastball, walked 23 batters in 29 2/3 IP, and posted a 7.58 ERA.
Command has remained an issue for Broxton in 2011, with five unintentional walks in 10 1/3 IP. However, his velocity has been back up in the mid-90s, and given his sporadic usage while Mattingly tried to find him innings outside of his save opportunities, keeping sharp probably hasn't been easy.
Naturally, this is a situation to monitor, not just for what it says about Broxton's predicament, but also the working relationship between Colletti and Mattingly.
Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.